We Found Our First Bad Boss at an AutoZone Store in Connecticut
Bad bosses come in many flavors.
There’s the boss who hands you a huge project as you’re trying to leave for the day.
There’s the boss who expects you to answer e-mail while on vacation.
And then there’s the boss who dons a Rasta wig to demean your religion — and compares you sexually to co-workers and customers saying, “I don’t discriminate. I do black, white, Puerto Rican, anything.”
Meet Michael Balboni, a manager at an AutoZone store in Bloomfield, Conn., and our first “Bad Boss of the Month.” In March 2015 the Connecticut Supreme Court found “ample evidence” that Mr. Balboni’s behavior toward a former worker at the store was “despicable.” As a result, the court ruled, a state jury may hear the worker’s claim of sexual harassment.
According to Doris Feliciano, the former AutoZone worker, Mr. Balboni critiqued her “flat ass” and commented on the “black, juicy” physiques of other women — employees and customers alike. Mr. Balboni also “rubbed his crotch against her buttocks” in the store aisles, she said in court filings, despite having “plenty of room” to walk by.
After Ms. Feliciano threatened to complain to AutoZone higher-ups, she said, Mr. Balboni got ticked off and sent her a text message that said, “You b***h.” He made coarse references to having sex with employees. And when she suffered from knee pain, she says, Mr. Balboni called her “a man” and said she should work anyway.
Then there was her hair, which as a Rastafarian Ms. Feliciano wore in dreadlocks.
Mr. Balboni asked what was “wrong” with it, wondering aloud whether she ever washed, according to Ms. Feliciano. She said he paraded in a dreadlock wig in front of her co-workers, declaring, “I’m a Rastafarian. Watch me because I steal.”
Mr. Balboni also mocked Ms. Feliciano’s Caribbean heritage, she said, referring to her as a “f***ing Jamaican” — even though Ms. Feliciano is an American citizen from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
When she challenged him on his behavior, she said, he claimed to be joking.
The Connecticut Supreme Court saw no humor, however, and said a jury should decide whether AutoZone is liable for sexual harassment.
The court’s decision was a limited win for Ms. Feliciano, who had been fired from AutoZone after a computer flagged her for misusing a customer rewards card. In its opinion, the court said that while Mr. Balboni may have discriminated against her, Ms. Feliciano’s actual firing wasn’t discriminatory — as she had claimed — because Mr. Balboni had nothing to do with it.
Astonishingly, two lower courts had said AutoZone didn’t need to face a jury even for Mr. Balboni’s alleged harassment — holdings that the Supreme Court called improper. Reasonable jurors could conclude, the court said, that the Bloomfield AutoZone was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult.”
The Employment Law Group law firm was not involved in Feliciano v. AutoZone, Inc. We select “Bad Boss” cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter’s audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.