Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Thrift-store company and its CEO Thelbert “Thad” Lawson Jr. found liable for harassment as a result of AG civil rights lawsuit

WENATCHEE — A jury found a veterans nonprofit and its founder and CEO, Thelbert “Thad” Lawson Jr., liable for pervasive and ongoing sexual harassment of 12 women. The jury ordered the defendants to pay nearly $1.5 million to the victims of the harassment as a result of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s civil rights lawsuit.

Lawson discriminated against and harassed 12 women who worked, volunteered, or shopped at Operation Veterans Assistance & Humanitarian Aid’s (OVAHA) two thrift stores, the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store in Wenatchee, and the Veterans Thrift Store in Kennewick. The harassment included offensive and unwanted touching, sexually charged remarks and inappropriate requests for sex. OVAHA and Lawson also retaliated against employees who tried to complain. In one instance, after Lawson heard one of his employees had consulted with a lawyer about the harassment, he threatened employees at a staff meeting: “Don’t piss me off, I know how to make your lives a living hell.”

Lawson also harassed 5 members of the public — including store volunteers and shoppers — at OVAHA’s Wenatchee and Kennewick stores. In July 2021, a jury found Lawson guilty of one count of assault for sexually grinding his body on a member of the public without her consent. OVAHA posted Lawson’s appeal bond in July 2021, which allowed him to stay out of jail after this conviction. The conviction was upheld on appeal, and Lawson spent 75 days in jail.

Ferguson filed the lawsuit in Chelan County Superior Court in February 2022. Today, the jury found this repeated, pervasive sexual harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge of female employees and members of the public violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

Late Thursday, the jury awarded $1.45 million in damages to the 12 women, as well is $17,267.50 in back wages to workers. All of the money awarded by the jury will go to the harassment victims. As a result of the verdict, Ferguson will file a post-trial motion asking the court to prevent Lawson from being in a position to supervise or harass women again in the future, and to award the state its costs and fees resulting from the lawsuit.

“What happened at OVAHA is repulsive, inexcusable and illegal,” Ferguson said. “I want to thank the workers, volunteers, and members of the public for their courage in speaking up. My team fought for them, and together, we won.”

The Washington State Human Rights Commission referred this matter to the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division when a former OVAHA employee filed a complaint against Lawson, and the Human Rights Commission recognized that Lawson may have targeted multiple employees.

"Absolutely justice served," Human Rights Commission Executive Director Andreta Armstrong said of the verdict. "The jury's decision to award nearly $1.5 million to the victims in the sexual harassment case against OVAHA and its CEO is a powerful affirmation of accountability and support for those who have endured such unacceptable behavior. The Washington State Human Rights Commission's investigation underscores the importance of a thorough examination in cases of misconduct. This outcome not only provides restitution for the victims but also sends a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated, fostering a safer and more equitable workplace for all."

Case details

OVAHA’s stated mission is to help veterans in need. For almost a decade, the nonprofit operated a thrift store, the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store, in Wenatchee, and later opened the 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 board president. Several employees reported Lawson’s conduct to Monroe, but she either did not believe the employees’ reports or defended Lawson.

The jury determined that Lawson harassed seven 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 asking employees how often they have sex, whether they use sex toys, requesting sexual favors, and asking employees to expose their bodies to him.

After one of his employees rejected Lawson’s harassment and Lawson believed she had talked to an attorney about his behavior, he began asking employees whether there were grounds to terminate her, and she received a call that she would no longer be placed on the schedule. He also warned that he “was untouchable” because he “knew police officers and judges.”

Lawson has also sexually harassed or assaulted volunteers and members of the public who were simply shopping at the stores. 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 another incident, Lawson trapped a member of the public in his office and dry-humped her against her will. In 2021, Lawson was convicted for criminal assault for the latter incident.

Despite Lawson’s criminal conviction and repeated complaints from employees, OVAHA 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 complaint also alleges that OVAHA and Lawson made working conditions at the stores so intolerable that some employees were forced to quit.

Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Jeon, Mitchell Riese, and Diane Lopez, former Assistant Attorney General Yesica Hernandez, Senior Investigator Alma Poletti, and Paralegals Logan Young, Anna Alfonso, and Legal Assistant Erika Ray 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, citizenship or immigration status, 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 civilrights@atg.wa.gov.


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.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

General contacts: Click here