Two former workers are suing Eddie Bauer LLC, saying they were victims of retaliation after reporting racist remarks by their managers’ at the Augusta store, as well as altered time sheets.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Rebecca Webber on behalf of Tammy Atkins-Poulin of Winslow and Raquel Eliasen of Readfield was removed to federal court last month by the Delaware-chartered retailer company.

The lawsuit charges violation of the state Whistleblower Protection Act, and violation of state and federal wage and hour laws. On Monday, the company responded to the women’s claims, denying the allegations involving racism and saying through attorney Melinda Caterine that it did nothing wrong and that the lawsuit should be dismissed.

“Defendant acted in good faith and without malice or unlawful intent at all relevant times,” the response says. It also says the company “properly compensated” the women for all their work.

The women seek a judgment in their favor plus an order “compelling (Eddie Bauer) to desist from all unlawful harassment and retaliation,” as well as triple the amount of the back wages claimed, a civil forfeiture of $500 for each woman, and attorneys fees and costs.

Documents show that Eliasen was hired Dec. 1, 2015 as co-manager of the store, and Atkins-Poulin began work there as a sales associate on March 29, 2016.

The complaint, which is at U.S. District Court in Bangor, says that while working there, the two women “observed and experienced a racially hostile environment created by their managers’ racist comments, racial slurs and racially motivated employment decisions, which they each found offensive and reported to management.”

In one example cited in the lawsuit, the women said, “A young African American man came into interview. He was very well dressed, had college in his background (which is a big deal in the retail world), was well spoken and professional.”

After Eliasen recommended hiring him, the complaint says store manager Angela Paine refused, explaining, “Well, he’s black and customers won’t buy anything from him.” Eliasen told her that was illegal, according to the complaint.

In a separate statement, Eliasen said she called her mother to relate the incident, saying “‘You won’t believe this.’ This was not how I was raised. I grew up around all kinds of people with my dad being in the military. I couldn’t believe this kind of racism still existed. It made me feel like I was selling out by working at Eddie Bauer.”

The complaint also says Atkins-Poulin reported that assistant manager Jennifer Karlson followed people of color and people with head scarves around the store but did not follow white customers.

Also, Atkins-Poulin said in March or April 2017, a young African-American woman arrived for an interview and Paine said, “Oh God, another one,” and did not shake the woman’s hand and did not hire her.

“On one occasion, Jennifer told Tammy that Muslims are ‘towel heads,’ and asked Tammy if her husband had ‘taken pleasure in shooting them in Iraq,” the complaint says.

Atkins-Poulin reported being disgusted by the behavior and telling Karlson, “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect,” the complaint says.

It also says that Paine and Carlson frequently used racial slurs and refused to wait on customers of color.

Atkins-Poulin and Eliasen also say their time cards appeared to be changed and that they were underpaid for the hours worked.

Eliasen reported the suspected time card changes to a regional manager in October 2016 and said that she was later accused by Paine of causing a hostile work environment, according to the complaint.

Atkins-Poulin also reported a manager using deep discounts to purchase products and said the store policy was unclear about employee use of rewards and credit cards to get cash back.

In its response, Eddie Bauer wrote that it “admits that Atkins-Poulin told Paine that Karlsson entered a lower price on a pair of ski pants than she should have . . . Further responding, defendant states that Paine reported Atkins-Poulin’s allegation about the ski pants to Loss Prevention and that Loss Prevention was unable to substantiate Atkins-Poulin’s allegations.”

The complaint says Eliasen was fired Feb. 27, 2017, five days after she “accidentally left the store” with $50 on her that she intended to shift from one register to another, but then “got distracted with closing paperwork.”

She said she called the store to say what happened and was told to bring it in on her next shift. The day she returned the money she was fired.

The complaint says Eliasen received unemployment benefits “because Eddie Bauer had not proved that she was terminated for misconduct and could not point to a single policy that Raquel had broken.”

Atkins-Poulin said she reported that she was disciplined for no reason, ostracized, and refused consideration for other jobs at the store, so she felt forced to give notice that she was leaving.

“Tammy was constructively terminated because no reasonable employee would have been able to endure the hostility to which she was subjected,” the complaint says.

In an interview last month, Webber said, “Tammy got unemployment after she was forced out,” and that her last day was May 25, 2017.

Initial discrimination complaints by each of the women were filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The two women are currently employed in other fields, Webber said.

Following initial publication of this story, the Kennebec Journal was provided with the following statement from an Eddie Bauer spokesperson:

“Eddie Bauer is committed to providing all employees and customers with a safe, respectful environment and condemns discrimination of any type, including racism.  For nearly 100 years, Eddie Bauer has operated its business with an unwavering commitment to ethics, integrity and inclusion, and the allegations in the lawsuit filed in the Maine District Court are antithetical to our organization’s core values.  Eddie Bauer thoroughly investigated the allegations in the complaint and found them to be unsubstantiated.  Any and all actions taken by Eddie Bauer concerning Ms. Eliasen and Ms. Atkins-Poulin were for legitimate non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons.  Eddie Bauer has moved the Court to dismiss the case, and intends to defend itself vigorously.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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