Young Store Manager Sexually Assaulted Raises Safety Issues – Gets Bullied and Sacked

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2089

VICTIM OF SEXUAL ATTACK SACKED AFTER RAISING CONCERNS

A would-be rapist attacks a young female employee working alone in a Milford Mall clothes store. Her screams alert mall security and the assailant runs off. Neither the bosses of the retail chain STORM, who owned the store, nor the Milford Mall in Auckland, report the matter to the police. There is no follow-up welfare check, let alone support, for the victim after the attack. When the young woman writes an email to her bosses, raising their lack of concern for the safety of their employees, she is sacked. 

 

THE ATTACK

The predator was a large brute. He entered the store pretending to buy a dress for his partner. When the employee, Milly*, turned, he grabbed her from behind and dragged her to the back room. She is petite, but she fought back and screamed for help. Fortunately, a security guard was walking by and interrupted the attack. The thug was allowed to run off.  

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Milly rung her boss. The owner’s boyfriend, Marc, was on his way for a routine visit, so she waited for him. He was with another man. They took no notes about the assault and shortly after sent her back to work. 

This was a young woman who was traumatised. An hour earlier she was physically attacked and only escaped being raped by fluke. It took Milly’s younger sister to turn up and take charge. She took Milly home. 

Later, when I criticised Marc’s casual indifference, he retorted that he had paid for her coffee. When I met the owner Deborah Caldwell, several weeks later, she said she was unaware that Milly had been touched by the attacker and how serious it was. Good grief!

 

THE WOULD-BE RAPIST RETURNS

Over the next fortnight, neither Deborah, Marc, or any senior managers, enquired after Milly’s emotion or physical state. The situation then worsened. The assailant returned to the mall. Like many victims, Milly internalised her trauma. She didn’t want to be seen as troublesome, so did not inform her employers. Instead, Milly told the mall security, who agreed to escort her to and from her car each shift. Why they didn’t take the film footage of the criminal and give it to the police is beyond baffling. When we called the cops, they were appalled. This would-be rapist had been stalking young women alone in stores and attacking them. If they had known about this attack, they would have gotten the footage and put him in jail.

 

HELPING IN PONSONBY 

A fortnight later, Milly was called by one of her staff, who was covering for the day in the Ponsonby store. The staffer was working alone, had no breaks all day, and had not eaten. She was told by some wag at head office to squat under the desk if she wanted to take a break. Milly went in, on her day off, to let her go and get something to eat. 

Milly loved her job and was happy to go the extra mile. Her Instagram page shows she put her heart and soul into her work. Milly was told she had turned the store around from its lowest point to its highest, resulting in the store getting a new fitout due to its success. Milly spent a lot of her free time creating a social media presence, constantly promoting the STORM brand, and personally creating a large number of new VIP customers. 

Milly became upset when she noted the absence of security cameras in the Ponsonby store, which had been promised after her attack at the Milford Store. The Ponsonby store is closed up after dark by a lone female staffer. Later that night, Milly sent an angry email to the owner and the three senior bosses, including Marc, about this apparent lack of care for the safety of employees. She also raised the matter of Marc being a bully and screaming at young female staff. Milly asked for a commitment that staff would be treated with respect.

The next day Milly was summoned to a meeting. She thought this was a meeting where she could discuss and resolve her concerns. Given the success of her store, she believed there may have been discussion about her remuneration. How wrong she was. 

 

THE FIRING SQUAD 

The owner, Deborah Caldwell, her boyfriend Marc, and two senior managers were there. Firstly, they accused Milly of circulating her email to all of the staff. She had not. Milly had said the Ponsonby worker would resign because of her treatment. They berated her for presuming to speak on behalf of other staff. The worker did indeed resign, the very next day.

When Milly was asked what she wanted to say, she started with “I am pretty ready to resign if you don’t…” (she was going to outline the things she needed changed). She was interrupted by Marc, who said “Alright you’ve resigned, you said it, you’re out, bye”. The meeting ended. It lasted six minutes. 

When Milly texted Deborah after the meeting saying she had not resigned and didn’t want to leave the company, Deborah asked her to return the store keys and property. A young woman was ordered to a meeting, alone, after raising complaints about the safety and treatment of staff and the behaviour of the owner’s boyfriend, Marc. She was then ordered out of the meeting and immediately terminated.

 

ARROGANT AND STUPID 

Deborah and the boyfriend insist to this day that Milly resigned. The mind boggles at their arrogance and stupidity. I was, and am, aghast at their behaviour and how callous and tone deaf they were about this attack.

Milly was so traumatised by the harrowing experience. She has had a hard time since, dealing with four assaults – the attack and attempted rape; the lack of follow-up care; the refusal to listen to concerns about bullying; and the sacking of a victim. This, from an enterprise that markets itself to women to feel better about themselves. Just stunning.

I asked Deborah Caldwell and STORM to apologise and make amends. Instead, they enlisted a lawyer who wants to scrap it out. Sometimes, you can’t save stupid from stupid. 

 

A CALL TO JUSTICE 

Milly has taken a long time to recover and only feels ready now to get justice. I want everyone who reads this article to sign our petition here, resource us here, volunteer here, and share this article with all your friends. 

I’m sick of employers abusing their workers and getting away with it. I hope you are too. 

*Milly is an alias, for obvious reasons.

 

EMPLOYER DETAILS:

Company name: Blackstar Holdings Ltd t/a STORM

Employer name: Deborah Caldwell

Employer number: 021 376 878

Employer email: deborahc@stormnz.com

Employer address: Level 1, 172 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland 1011

and

35D Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn, Auckland

Please sign our petition to end exploitation in New Zealand and visit our website utu.org.nz to find out how you can help further.

 

17 COMMENTS

  1. Appalling. Has Worksafe been informed? If so, why havent they shut the stores down? I know they’ve done a lot more for a lot less.

  2. My daughter was attacked and groped at knife point during daylight hours while managing a Cotton On Store in Central Melbourne. 3 days off with pay to recover. Reported to police. New policies were installed at the store and she was part of the workshop group which developed them. Keeping safe policies with paid training were run in every Melbourne store as part of Cotton On’s management Their staff’s safety was a top priority. And we wonder why our young leave NZ.

  3. I was going to say this is unbelievable and in its own right it is but Matt your exposure of these horrible employers shows how prevalent this sort of employer conduct towards their employees is.

    While certainly not on the scale that Milly experienced a friend of mine who worked long hours in a cafe to earn money to support her university studies was sacked by her employer for apparently talking rudely to a regular customer. The customer berated my friend because the dish that she ordered was not to her liking. My friend did not prepare the food – she simply took the order and then delivered the food to the customer. My friend asked the woman to please not raise her voice and said she would get the manager. Result – my friend was sacked for being rude to a loyal customer. Luckily my friend’s father contacted an employment lawyer who took the case on for my friend and won. My friend got a substantial payout and the lawyer also managed to get the employer to contribute to his legal fee which really helped my friend out. On top of all that the lawyer also managed to face-down the arrogant dismissive lawyer who represented the employer.

    Thank you Matt for exposing bully employers like Deborah Caldwell and her boyfriend Marc. I hope you manage to get something for Milly and I am sure you will face-down their lawyer.

  4. I hadn’t thought of this. They may have put safety measures since. I was more focussed on the dismissal process and the well-being of the victim. But I’ll call worksafe and look into it.

  5. I wonder how boyfriend Marc would feel if Deborah Caldwell had been the victim of a rape in the same circumstances at the Milford Mall store.

    Would he have gone into the ‘nothing to see here or worry about’ mode?

  6. Will also ad that people like Deborah Caldwell and her cronies are putting other women at risk by not reporting the offender to police, like any decent human being would

  7. An employer has a legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to protect the health and safety of staff and that staff are involved in any discussions relating to these issues. An employer cannot berate then effectively dismiss a staff member for raising health or safety issues and for criticising management for ignoring the health & safety of themselves and other staff members.

    Also, what the heck is Marc’s role in the business other than being the owner’s boyfriend? It seems to me as if Deborah Caldwell is using her boyfriend to intimidate staff members. If they complain he does her dirty work. And in such cases of nepotism/cronyism it takes no imagination to figure out that they will support each other against the likes of Milly.

    This country desperately needs anti-cronyism and anti-nepotism laws and this case proves it!

  8. Thanks for naming and shaming of another disgraceful NZ Employer. Time for us to BOYCOTT companies who treat their employees so badly. Only when we hit them in the pocket will they take notice. Share on FB or any other social media. POWER TO THE PEOPLE – KIA KAHA MATT.

  9. If you are the victim of a crime at work, report it to the police. You are the victim, not the business. Too often the opportuniy is taken to ‘avoid bad publicity’. Your rights do not switch off at the door every day when you come to work, no matter how much the business would like it.

    • This young woman did go to the police. Their advice to her was to leave the job.
      I find that when a worker commits a crime the state can’t wait to prosecute them. But when bosses do it, they tell the worker it’s a civil matter and they should get a lawyer. Of course workers can’t afford a lawyer and so these crimes remain invisible. When a worker leaves an abusive bosses, the next worker then becomes the next victim and so it goes on. That’s not the answer.
      With others support, I will do my best to hold bad bosses to account. But we have to build a workers movement that will stop exploitation and abuse against all workers. But then you know that 🙂

      • Matt, the cops should be called to account for not taking the employee’s complaint and investigating it. I spoke to my father’s friend – the retired detective – about this and he said that the person who assaulted the young woman should have been arrested and charged with indecent assault. He said that in no way is it a civil matter.

        I agree there are a lot of workers who cannot afford to pay a lawyer when they are bullied by an employer but not all lawyers charge big fees, like the lawyer who helped my friend.

        • Sorry I wasn’t clear. The cops did arrest the attacker. If they had known when the assault happened they would have got him earlier. This wasn’t the only attack.
          I was referring to her reporting the attack two weeks later after the case wasn’t reported by her boss. The cops were appalled. But they said she should just leave the job because her employer didn’t look after their staff. That solves nothing.

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