Jackson County

'Find a nice white man to date,' lawsuit says Pascagoula grocery manager told employee

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A former employee of Jerry Lee's Grocery in Pascagoula claims in a civil-rights lawsuit that she lost her job because she complained about being sexually harassed and discriminated against.

Brenda L. Freeman of Harrison County filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Jerry Lee's Grocery, co-owner Susan Lee Harris and employee Alice Douglas.

Freeman is asking a judge to find her civil rights were violated, to compensate her for lost wages and suffering and to award her punitive damages and court costs.

The attorney for the grocery store, Karl Steinberger of Pascagoula, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because Jerry Lee's has not yet been served with a copy. He said Jerry Lee's will be filing a response.

The lawsuit represents only Freeman's side of the story.

Freeman says she started work at Jerry Lee's as a cashier in December 2014. The lawsuit says store manager Douglas discriminated against Freeman because she was in an interracial marriage.

"Douglas publicly told employees in store meetings that blacks and whites should not mix, that Jesus says so and that this is in the Bible," the lawsuit says.

Freeman said Douglas often asked why Freeman "could not find a nice white man to date instead of a black man."

From April 2015 until September 2016, Freeman says, she also was the victim of unwanted sexual advances from employee Meghan Warren. Warren also professed her love for Freeman in text messages, the lawsuit says.

Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Rights

The harassment became a "running joke" among other employees, the lawsuit says.

Store managers who were aware of the "hostile work environment" did nothing to stop it, she said.

Instead, Freeman says, a year after she was hired, Jerry Lee's denied her a transfer to the butcher shop at higher pay and moved her to the stock department, where she was unable to earn more money.

Freeman said her hours also were cut from 40 to 25 a week after she complained of being sexually harassed.

"Jerry Lee's knew or should have known that it was fostering a hostile work environment in which racial discrimination, sexual harassment and cruelty was pervasive," the lawsuit says.

Freeman says she lost her job at Jerry Lee's in September 2016 because of her complaints about being harassed and discriminated against.

She filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, which drew no conclusions about her claims but issued a notice giving her the right to file her lawsuit.

Anita Lee can be reached at 228-896-2331or @CAnitaLee1

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