Office seeking additional victims, witnesses of ongoing harassment by Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store founder
WENATCHEE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil rights lawsuit today against a Wenatchee veterans nonprofit and its founder and CEO regarding discrimination and sexual harassment. The nonprofit and CEO discriminated against and harassed at least 12 women who worked at or visited the nonprofit’s two thrift stores, the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store in Wenatchee, and the Veterans Thrift Store in Kennewick.
The lawsuit, filed in Chelan County Superior Court, asserts that Operation Veterans Assistance & Humanitarian Aid (OVAHA) and its founder and CEO, Thelbert “Thad” Lawson Jr., subjected thrift store employees to pervasive, ongoing sexual harassment, including offensive and unwanted touching, sexually charged remarks and inappropriate requests. When Lawson heard one of his employees had consulted with a lawyer about the harassment, he retaliated against her. He removed her from a desirable position as a cashier, monitored her using store cameras, and isolated her from other employees.
The lawsuit asks the court to permanently prohibit Lawson from working at OVAHA and its stores. Additionally, Ferguson is requesting that Lawson pay damages to the people affected by his unlawful conduct.
Anyone with information about Lawson and OVAHA, including people who saw or experienced any discrimination, including sexual harassment, at the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store or Veterans Thrift Store, should reach out to the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division at 1-833-660-4877, and choose option 6 from the main menu. Individuals can also contact the Attorney General’s Office by email at VeteransWarehouse@atg.wa.gov.
“My team will use all the tools we have to stop workplace harassment and discrimination,” Ferguson said. “Everyone deserves a safe work environment free from abuse.”
“Washingtonians have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment,” said Sharon Ortiz, executive director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. “If your employer is subjecting you to harassment or discrimination, you don’t have to put up with it. Report it.”
Lawson also harassed at least two members of the public — including a store volunteer — at OVAHA’s Wenatchee store. In July 2021, a jury found Lawson guilty of one count of assault for one of these incidents. OVAHA posted Lawson’s appeal bond in July 2021, which has allowed him to stay out of jail after this conviction.
The Attorney General’s Office investigation discovered Lawson continues work at OVAHA’s thrift stores and refuses to stop engaging in his unlawful harassment since his assault conviction.
The lawsuit asserts this repeated, pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation violates the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Washington State Human Rights Commission referred this matter to the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division when a former employee filed a complaint against Lawson, and the Human Rights Commission recognized that Lawson may have targeted multiple employees.
OVAHA’s stated mission is to help veterans in need. The nonprofit operates two thrift stores, the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store in Wenatchee and Veterans Thrift Store in Kennewick.
Lawson is the founder and CEO of OVAHA, and its board of directors consists of Lawson’s family and friends. His wife, Karen Monroe, is the OVAHA's president. Several employees reported Lawson’s conduct to Monroe, but she either did not believe the employees’ reports or defended Lawson.
Lawson harassed at least 10 thrift store employees, subjecting them to offensive and unwanted touching and regularly commenting on and asking questions about employees’ sex lives. He made inappropriate requests, including requesting sexual favors, asking employees to expose their bodies to him and asking an employee to try on lingerie.
After one of his employees rejected Lawson’s harassment and Lawson believed she had talked to an attorney about his behavior, he retaliated against her, including reassigning her to less desirable work and scheduling her lunch break to prevent her from going out to lunch with her coworkers.
Lawson has also sexually harassed or assaulted members of the public. One individual obtained a restraining order in 2017 against Lawson after he locked her in a basement room with him and she had to run past him to escape. In 2021, Lawson was convicted for criminal assault for sexually grinding his body on another individual without her consent. Both incidents occurred at the Wenatchee Veterans Warehouse Store.
Despite Lawson’s criminal conviction and repeated complaints from employees, OVAHA has continued to allow Lawson to work at its thrift stores and continue his unlawful harassment.
Ferguson’s complaint asserts OVAHA and Lawson violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination by subjecting OVAHA’s female employees, volunteers and members of the public to unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, including severe, pervasive and unwelcome sexual conduct — and retaliation against them for speaking out.
The lawsuit asks the court to permanently prohibit Lawson from working at OVAHA and its stores and pay damages to the people affected by the unlawful conduct.
Assistant Attorneys General Yesica Hernandez and Daniel Jeon, Investigator Supervisor Alma Poletti, and Legal Assistant Anna Alfonso of the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.
The Wing Luke Civil Rights Division was created in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. It is named for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability or honorably discharged veteran or military status.
More information about Washington’s civil rights laws in employment is available at http://www.hum.wa.gov/employment. Individuals who believe they have been victims of employment discrimination can file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission at http://www.hum.wa.gov/discrimination-complaint or can contact the Office of the Attorney General at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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