A civil rights lawsuit has been filed against Operation Veterans Assistance & Humanitarian Aid (OVAHA) in Wenatchee, Wash., and its founder and CEO, Thelbert “Thad” Lawson Jr., by the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
According to the suit, Lawson and others at the nonprofit discriminated against and harassed at least a dozen women employed by or who visited at least one of OVAHA’s two thrift stores. The stores provide clothing and household items to veterans at little to no cost.
Lawson is accused of touching female employees without their permission; leading female employees into enclosed areas such as his office, where he then allegedly made sexually explicit comments; commenting on his genitalia, female employees’ and customers’ appearance; making sexual gestures and staring at female employee’s groin and buttocks; asking female employees to go with him to hotels or the store’s basement; regularly commenting on female employees’ sex lives, desirability, and fantasies; requesting that female employees walk in front of him so he could stare at their buttocks; requesting that female employees expose their bodies; and requesting dates and sexual acts in exchange for job security, avoiding workplace discipline, and/or for store benefits, according to the lawsuit. The papers, in support of complaint #22-2-00091-04, were filed in Chelan County Superior Court.
Reached at his Wenatchee store, Lawson had no comment on advice of his attorney, but indicated he had exculpatory evidence.
It is further alleged in the suit that activities made OVAHA employees afraid, sick, stressed or uncomfortable, and that Lawson’s actions often occurred in the presence of other female employees or customers.
According to the suit, victims complained of Lawson’s actions to managers, supervisors and OVAHA’s President, Karen Jean Monroe, who is Lawson’s wife. OVAHA supposedly took no investigative or corrective action in response to the complaints, the suit alleges.
Instead, OVAHA allegedly took retaliatory actions against at least one employee, including increasing scrutiny of, assigning more difficult job duties to, denying overtime payments to, making accusations against and threatening the employment of the employee, according to the suit.
According to a statement from AG Ferguson’s office, Lawson has also sexually harassed or assaulted members of the public, one incident in 2017 involving a restraining order.
The suit seeks to enjoin Lawson and OVAHA from discrimination or retaliation against employees who complain of discriminatory or unfair employment practices; bar Lawson from entering any of OVAHA’s business premises, as well as managing, operating or otherwise being involved with OVAHA’s business decisions and/or operations; award unspecified damages to each aggrieved person and award the state the cost of the suit.