Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Cases at Best Buy

An Open Letter to Corie Barry, CEO

Originally posted to Medium – July 22, 2020

Credit: Mike Mozart from Funny YouTube, USA / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

I am a former Best Buy Counter Intelligence Agent Senior who suffered rampant sexual harassment during my tenure. I was fired after I complained. Below is an open letter I sent on July 22, 2020 to the CEO, seeking to be released from my forced arbitration clause.


Dear Ms. Barry,

First, I would like to congratulate you on becoming the first woman CEO of Best Buy. Your elevation is a ground-breaking step in the heavily male-dominated world of technology. It creates an opportunity for Best Buy to foster real systemic change by leading the way toward more gender-equitable policies. I write to you today to encourage you to start by releasing sexual harassment victims, like me, from Best Buy’s arbitration policy. I am a former employee of Best Buy who was driven out by rampant sexual harassment and assault, and then fired in retaliation for complaining about it. It is my hope that you will recognize that forcing employees like me into arbitration, rather than court, deprives us of an opportunity to seek justice, and perpetuates discrimination against women at Best Buy.

You bring a deep understanding of the urgent inequalities facing our country, tech and “gamer” culture in particular, to Best Buy. Upon assuming the CEO role, you immediately set the tone for your tenure by announcing Best Buy’s commitment to “a path of systemic, permanent change in as many ways as we can find.”[1] You affirmed Best Buy’s philosophy that “our people are the secret to ​our success” and accepted your “responsibility as CEO to unleash their power by nurturing a diverse and inclusive environment, one in which employees can bring ​their whole selves — their best selves — to work each day.”[2] You’ve eloquently spoken about the need for gender parity in STEM:

“We need to empower more girls to go into STEM fields, or we’re not utilizing half of the brain power in the world . . . That also means that what gets studied and what gets made will be determined by only half of the population. Women need to be involved in fixing the problems of the future.”[3]

Best Buy’s current forced-arbitration policy is not in alignment with these values, as it functions to hide the pervasive sexual harassment that keeps women out of tech.

Throughout my time at Best Buy, first as a Merchandising Specialist, then Advanced Repair Agent, and then as a Counter Intelligence Agent Senior, I was often the only woman on all-male teams of up to 10 people, including Best Buy’s “Geek Squad”. I experienced constant sexual harassment, both from my colleagues, and from Best Buy’s “gamer” customers. [4] I complained repeatedly about the sexual harassment to multiple supervisors; my complaints were met with reactions ranging from mockery to outright indifference.[5]

One colleague repeatedly singled me out and made me feel uncomfortable with graphic sexual comments, yelling at me about “f — ing” him and bombarding me with comments about “deep-throat blowjobs” and “skull-f — ing”. Best Buy took no action whatsoever in response to my repeated complaints; indeed, management laughed along.

Nor did Best Buy take any action when customers would harass and even assault me. One customer grabbed my torso in a sexual manner, and then chased me back to the employees-only area of the store, after I fled there to try to escape him. Another customer grabbed me, grinding his body into mine, and slobbered onto my neck. One man was openly stalking me at the store. Best Buy did nothing, and management actually delivered a “gift” to me that my stalker had left for me on a day I wasn’t at the store.

Increasingly frightened for my safety, I faithfully reported these attacks to Best Buy as they occurred. These incidents occurred in open view of my colleagues, adding another level of shame and humiliation. Yet, Best Buy took no steps to remove these perpetrators from the store, or even to identify them. The man who slobbered on my neck actually returned later that same week, crept up behind me, and whispered “I love you” into my ear. These were among the most frightening experiences of my life. Of course, Best Buy has plenty of measures designed to prohibit shoplifters and other ill-behaving customers from visiting the stores. [6] But my assailants were permitted simply to continue shopping, purchase their items, and return to the store at their leisure.

When I finally escalated my complaints to Best Buy’s central Human Resources department, I was promptly fired.[7]

Working at Best Buy as a woman, due to these discriminatory and retaliatory acts, caused me grievous harm. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. After some of the worst harassment, of which Best Buy was aware, I was placed on an emergency suicide intervention program. I continue to suffer, including recurring nightmares. Best Buy treated me as though I was completely worthless, and then fired me for complaining. It was a traumatic experience that no male Best Buy employees have had to suffer.

Now, after everything I have been through, to learn that I am being forced into arbitration, and deprived of my day in court, feels like a slap in the face. Best Buy’s forced-arbitration policy requires me to pursue my claims in a hidden, secretive process. My adjudicator, who will make decisions not only about the merits of my case but also the scope of documents I am allowed to access, is compensated directly by Best Buy. The worst part is that without public accountability, Best Buy has no real incentive to change its practices. As a victim, being silenced is hard, on a personal level; but to think that my efforts could have no benefit to future female Best Buy employees, who may suffer exactly as I have suffered, is unspeakably disheartening. It is the ultimate disempowerment.

The inherent unfairness of arbitration in employment matters has been widely recognized, especially in sexual harassment cases like mine. New York State lawmakers have been so disgusted with arbitration in this context that they have attempted to make arbitration illegal in matters of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and have supported various plaintiffs through media campaigns.[8] One judge recently admonished a defense attorney, “Your law firm and all the defense law firms have tried for 30 years to keep plaintiffs out of court” using forced-arbitration agreements.[9] Many other Forbes 500 companies and law firms have taken a stand against forced arbitration, including Microsoft Corp., Uber, Google, Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, Sidley Austin, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. These companies have received praise for their leadership on the issue.

I hope you will consider taking action in alignment with your values, by joining the fight against these prejudicial anti-employee arbitration practices, starting with Best Buy’s own forced-arbitration policy. With your leadership on this issue, you can make a real difference toward a more equitable future for women in tech.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Sarah Tremblay
Former Best Buy Counter Intelligence Agent Senior
c/o Crumiller P.C.
16 Court St, Ste 2500
Brooklyn, NY 11241


[1] Corrie Barry, “A Note From Best Buy’s CEO: We Will Do Better, Diversity Best Practices,” https://www.diversitybestpractices.com/note-from-best-buys-ceo-we-will-do-better (June 5, 2020).

[2] “Inclusion and Diversity,” Best Buy Blog, https://corporate.bestbuy.com/inclusion-and-diversity/ (last accessed July 22, 2020).

[3] Becca Johnson, “5 Reasons Best Buy is a Great Place for Women to Work,” Best Buy Blog, https://corporate.bestbuy.com/5-reasons-best-buy-is-a-great-place-for-women-to-work/ (February 24, 2020).

[4] In online video-gaming communities, there exists a common and pervasive misogynistic culture which perpetuates and glorifies offensive oversexualization, sexual harassment and sexual assault of women. As part of Best Buy’s Geek Squad, working primarily in video games and technology, my work required me to regularly interact with individuals who self-identified as members of this “gamer” culture. Noah Smith, “Racism, Misogyny, Death Threats: Why Can’t the Booming Video-Game Industry Curb Toxicity?”, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/02/26/racism-misogyny-death-threats-why-cant-booming-video-game-industry-curb-toxicity (February 29, 2019);“GamerGate: Sexism & Misogyny in Gaming,” Huffington Post, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gamergate-sexism-misogyny-in-gaming_n_5b571656e4b0cf38668f9b0c(last accessed July 22, 2020); James Poniewozik, “MisogynistOnline Abuse Is Everybody’s Problem — Men Included,” TIME, https://time.com/3512896/gamergate-misogyny-men-anita-sarkeesian/ (Oct. 16, 2014).

[5] In response to one of my complaints, I was told it was my “job to deal with customers”: in other words, sexual harassment and assault were the price I had to pay to work at Best Buy.

[6] For example, in one instance, a customer was removed from the store for attempting to distribute religious pamphlets.

[7] The stated reason was for “survey dropping” (i.e. refraining to give feedback surveys to troublesome customers). However, survey dropping was not only condoned, and a practice adopted by Best Buy management, but management was explicitly aware that I had adopted the practice to protect myself from online harassment by customers who had harassed me in-store. Moreover, an investigation into survey-dropping had concluded months prior; many employees who engaged in the practice, even far more often than I did, were not fired. I was excellent at my job; I had received only stellar employee reviews and generally received every performance-based bonus available to me.

[8] “Bipartisan Group Of 67 Legislators Rebukes Ernst & Young Over Arbitration Policy,” NY State Senate, https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/ press-releases/liz-krueger/bipartisan-group-67-legislators-rebukes-ernst-young-over (July 31, 2019).

[9] Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “‘Scared to Death’ by Arbitration: Companies Drowning in Their Own System,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/business/arbitration-overload.html, (April 6, 2020).

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