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Suit Alleges Man Was Fired From Trader Joe's After Complaining About Penis-Shaped Gift

LOS ANGELES ( — Trader Joe's is being sued by a former employee who alleges he was fired after complaining about being given a gift resembling male genitalia during the company's Christmas party in 2014.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in state court alleges Paul Roberts, 49, was "shocked, embarrassed, and humiliated" after receiving a gift from a co-worker he had known for several years at the Dec. 24 party at a Trader Joe's location in Pasadena.

Roberts opened the gift described in court papers as "a small penis ... which when submerged in water, would increase in size" in front of other employees, as well as a Trader Joe's supervisor. It was accompanied by a note he perceived to be derogatory.

Distraught, the suit says, Roberts left the party abruptly and was "totally humiliated and embarrassed."

Two days later, Roberts made his first complaint, approaching his supervisor and others to explain his discomfort, the complaint states.

He also advised them he planned to file a formal complaint, pointing out that "if he had given a similar gift to a female co-worker that he would have likely been reprimanded and likely terminated," according to the suit.

The next day, the suit claims, Roberts approached another supervisor, who told him he "would take care of it."

Yet, the suit claims, Roberts felt the supervisor "was acting nonchalant and cavalier about the situation." It also claims that same supervisor later interrogated Roberts over "false accusations" made against him by the employee who gave him the gift.

After sending a written inquiry in January 2015, Roberts was told by a human resources representative his complaint was being investigated, but he was terminated that same month, according to the complaint.

"Despite Trader Joes' representations that Plaintiff's complaint was being addressed and his sincere hope that the harassment at work would cease and in spite of his feelings of shock, embarrassment, isolation, and malaise, Plaintiff was terminated on January 15, 2015," the complaint states.

His attorney, William Stoner, told CBS Los Angeles: "The reason given was a pretext for the retaliation. They indicated that his work was unsatisfactory and unacceptable."

Roberts had worked for the company since 2007.

"This is a unique case where you have a man that was being sexually harassed by a woman and then being fired after he complained about it," said Stoner, who has been an attorney for 35 years. "In a more typical case, the roles would be reversed. It is no less harmful for the employee to be harassed when it is a man that is being harassed by a woman than in a situation that seems more common.

"We believe that men as well as women can be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace and this case is an example of that type of situation," Stoner said.

The suit sets forth multiple causes of action, including sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment, retaliation and wrongful termination, among others.

"We are seeking compensation for the loss of what had been his career for eight years," Stoner said.

CBS Los Angeles reached out to a representative of Trader Joe's by phone and email, who declined to comment citing pending litigation.

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