MORGANTOWN - A Monongalia County woman is suing a national hardware chain where she is employed because of the harassment and threats brought on by a co-worker.
Jolene M. Downs is suing Lowe's Home Centers Inc. and Beth Finley because of human rights violations, as well as negligence toward her situation.
Downs was employed by the Human Resources Department of Lowe's in Morgantown. In this role, she was directly responsible for ensuring various employee policies, practices and procedures were met at all times.
She reported directly to Finley. Finley told Downs she was involved in a romantic relationship with the manager of the store at which they were working. Finley then provided details about the relationship, including details of a sexual nature.
"On multiple occasions, (Downs) expressed to Finley her belief that the romantic relationship ... was morally wrong, was in violation of company policy and was potentially in violation of West Virginia law," the lawsuit states.
Finley told Downs that is she told anyone about the relationship, she would have Downs fired.
"The knowledge as the to existence of the romantic relationship between Finley and the manager of the store caused a high degree of stress for the plaintiff," the suit states.
The statements Finley made constitute opposition to practices potentially prohibited by the West Virginia Human Rights Act.
Downs then decided to make an anonymous report to Lowe's regarding the relationship in hopes someone would interview her about her knowledge of the situation. But, the suit states, no one conducted the appropriate investigation.
The suit states that because of that, Lowe's committed at least four violations of the Human Rights Act.
First, through the action of a management employee, Finley, it engaged in making threats against Downs aimed at preventing her from altering other within the corporation regarding the existence of a romantic relationship that could constitute a violation of the Human Right Act.
Second, through the actions of Finley, Lowe's threatened Downs with her job after she opposed the actions of Finley.
Third, Lowe's failed to conduct an adequate investigation based on information provided anonymously regarding the existence of the relationship, that potentially constituted quid pro quo sexual harassment. The West Virginia Human Rights Act requires employers to conduct investigations regarding instances of potential sexual harassment.
Fourth, after Downs told Finley she would be resigning her position, she sent a letter to Finley's supervisor explaining the situation. Lowe's again failed to conduct an investigation based on information and belief.
The lawsuit states the work atmosphere created by Finley constituted a hostile work environment, which was offensive. The violations created persistent mental and emotional distress for the plaintiff, requiring her to take a leave of absence and ultimately resign her position with Lowe's.
Downs is seeking compensation for her lost wages, as well as reinstatement to her employment. In lieu of reinstatement she requests an award of future lost wages, reduced to present value. She also asks for punitive damages to punish Lowe's and Finley for their violations of the law and to deter them and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.