When A Warehouse Worker Won’t Give Up The Fight To Stop Harassment

When A Warehouse Worker Won’t Give Up The Fight To Stop Harassment

She’s making $11.75 an hour shipping products for a multibillion-dollar company and has spent months ringing the alarm.
Annetta Smith poses for a photo in Memphis on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. 

Brandon Dill for HuffPost
Annetta Smith poses for a photo in Memphis on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

Annetta Smith, a 50-year-old warehouse worker at XPO Logistics in Memphis, has been complaining about her manager since last fall, when he put his hands on her and shoved her at a meeting ― in front of other staff.

She told other supervisors about this incident and similar occurrences, and even went to the police. She’s repeatedly sent emails to corporate addresses detailing what happened.

“PLEASE ask him to keep his hands OFF me,” Smith wrote in an email, reviewed by HuffPost, sent to a corporate web address in October.

The manager kept his job.

The supervisors did nothing, so Smith tried emailing a corporate web address in late November, adding that this manager had been mocking her in meetings if she asked a question. “UNACCEPTABLE,” she wrote.

The manager kept his job.

But Smith isn’t giving up. On Tuesday, she filed sexual discrimination charges against XPO at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal civil rights agency that handles discrimination complaints. The charges describe both times Smith’s manager got physical with her. She says he behaved similarly with others.

If I don’t speak up, then I’m the reason these guys get away with it.Annetta Smith

“He pushes and shoves people around like they are mannequins especially the women,” Smith wrote in the October email, which is also quoted in the charges. “Please send him thru orientation again maybe he missed the harassment part,” wrote Smith, who is heading up worker efforts to unionize the Memphis facility, led by the Teamsters.

Smith is the 11th woman this year to file sexual discrimination charges against XPO, a massive company that does something called supply chain logistics for several of the most well-known businesses in the world, including Disney, Cummins and Verizon. (Verizon also owns Oath, HuffPost’s parent company.) Based in the affluent city of Greenwich, Connecticut, XPO took in about $15 billion in revenue last year and was recently named one of the “world’s most admired companies” byFortune magazine.

Smith makes $11.75 an hour at her job.

Two other women who work for XPO in Memphis ― one at the Disney facility and another at a Cummins warehouse ― also filed sex discrimination charges Tuesday at the EEOC, which handles federal employment discrimination complaints. HuffPost has not seen the Cummins complaint.

XPO told HuffPost that they had not yet received notification about the EEOC filings. Typically it takes some time for that to happen. “We have no tolerance for harassment of any kind, period. We investigate all claims and take action when necessary,” a spokesperson said.

Disney did not respond to HuffPost’s emailed requests for comment.

This spring, eight current and former female XPO employees in Memphis, who work at a Verizon-affiliated plant, also brought sexual discrimination complaints against the company at the EEOC.

In May, after HuffPost reported on the charges, Verizon said it launched a harassment investigation into the Memphis facility. A few days later, executives from the company toured the warehouse, according to a Verizon spokesman. “We appreciate the steps XPO has taken since and we continue to work very closely together,” he said.

XPO hired an outside firm to investigate the claims at the Verizon Memphis facility, and ultimately concluded that there was no sexual harassment, a spokesperson told HuffPost.

“We believe that the Teamsters instigated these filings and manufactured these claims for ulterior purposes,” she said.

Two other women also filed complaints against XPO on Wednesday. Tierra Ellis, a 25-year-old mother of three who works with Smith at the Memphis Disney facility said that she has been repeatedly harassed by a different supervisor there. He grabbed and kissed her on one occasion, and soon after that, told her he wanted her to “rub on his dick,” according to the charges filed. That supervisor is still employed.

“What gives you the audacity to even feel you can do something like this?” Ellis said in a phone interview with HuffPost. She said she hasn’t gone to HR to complain about these incidents because she doesn’t trust the department.

Smith, on the other hand, has been unafraid to speak up.

Brandon Dill for HuffPost

The trouble for Smith began a few months after she started working at the Memphis facility in September 2017 when themanager grabbed and pushed her in a meeting ― telling Smith she was standing too close to him, according to the charges and a police report filed in January.

Smith said that after she emailed corporate about the incident, an executive showed up on the warehouse floor and told workers, “‘We want everybody to get along with each other,’” she recalled the executive saying. “Then she went back to her office.” So Smith followed her back, and asked if she had been talking about what happened to her.

“Oh, [he] plays with everybody,” the HR representative said, according to Smith. “If he hits you or pushes you, that’s just how he plays.”

The second incident happened about a month later, toward the end of a busy but productive shift packing Disney products. An executive came out onto the floor to celebrate with workers. As he was about to high-five Smith, the manager elbowed her out of the way. “He was trying to knock me down,” Smith told HuffPost. “It happened so fast.”

She wrote another email, but didn’t hear back.

Soon enough, Smith was working too hard during the holiday busy season to follow up. In the run-up to Christmas, Smith said she worked 12-hour shifts for much of the week.

Once the holidays died down, in early January, Smith went to the local EEOC office. They told Smith she had been criminally assaulted and she should go to the police, Smith told HuffPost.

So she went to the police and told them about the two physical assaults, according to the Memphis police incident report reviewed by HuffPost.

Then she waited on the police, calling and emailing the detective for months, until he finally reached out to her in March to say he’d been transferred to another division.

She never heard anything else. When HuffPost contacted the Memphis police department, a spokeswoman said the case had been closed. “This is a simple assault that did not occur in the presence of a law enforcement officer, and there are no independent witnesses that were identified. There is also no video available,” she said.

After HuffPost wrote about the charges of sexual harassment at the Verizon facility in May, Smith got called into a facility-wide sexual harassment training at the Memphis facility, she said. Immediately after that, Smith said, one executive talked to her privately about her complaints. She said, “Finally, someone is gonna do something.”

But nothing happened, even after two more corporate executives came down to Memphis to talk to her. One told her they were waiting for the police to act, Smith said.

So on June 5, Smith sent another email. This time, someone from XPO responded. “We are in receipt of your report,” wrote a representative from XPO’s legal department, in the email. “XPO takes very seriously all alleged unethical conduct.”

Meanwhile, Smith’s manager still works at XPO.

But Smith hasn’t given up. “I’m gonna keep going,” she said. “I have a granddaughter and I don’t want her to go to work one day and think this is acceptable. If I don’t speak up, then I’m the reason these guys get away with it.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Cummins corporation as Cummings.

If you’ve been harassed at your place of work and would like to share your story, email [email protected]

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Emily Peck

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