All too familiar -- Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: 'I had no idea what to say or how to respond'

Indiana Nash, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.
·4 min read

Mar. 21—Shares0FacebookTweetEmail

Elizabeth Canavan doesn't want what happened to her to happen to anyone else.

"A 21-year-old should be able to get a part-time job at a grocery store without being subjected to repeated harassment by store leadership. It's not about playing [the] victim and presenting as vulnerable or weak. I am neither. It is about accountability," she said.

Although the full-time college student doesn't want the spotlight to be on her, she feels her experience of sexual harassment "speaks to a greater problem that women face in the workplace and the damaging impact of zero accountability."

She worked in the bakery at ShopRite in Niskayuna from October 2020 through late February. During that time, Canavan said, she was sexually harassed by more than one person, including an assistant manager.

"My first week starting at ShopRite, I found that I was the subject of harassment from somebody in one of the other departments. I'm not really a hypersensitive person ... but I felt uncomfortable, so I spoke with the store's HR [representative] and it was handled," Canavan said.

But, Canavan said, in the ensuing weeks, one of the assistant managers began acting flirtatious toward her in a way that made her uncomfortable, and in a way that she did not initiate. While she did her best to avoid him, by early February it reached a point that she didn't feel comfortable working there anymore, so she submitted her two-week notice.

Then, during her second-to-last shift at ShopRite, she said the assistant manager made comments about how her body looked when she walked and used gestures to emulate how her walk made him feel. He made the comments in front of another co-worker, Canavan said.

"I remember under my mask feeling like my face felt so hot because I was so embarrassed. I had no idea what to say or how to respond," Canavan said. "When I was walking back to the bakery a few minutes later, he made the comments again when I walked by him. I had never felt this uncomfortable in my workplace before."

The next day, her last at the store, Canavan said the co-worker made similar comments. She attempted to walk away, but he followed her into the back of the bakery, where there were no other employees.

"He made more crude and sexually objectifying comments about how my body looks while I was carrying trays, how it made him feel," Canavan said.

She decided to go to a store manager to report what happened.

The manager she spoke with was apologetic, according to Canavan, and when she said she wanted to file a complaint of sexual harassment, he asked her to write out a statement. She did, and was contacted by the regional HR department within a day. In a statement to The Gazette, ShopRite said it takes all allegations of sexual harassment seriously and "conducted a thorough and complete investigation, and subsequently took appropriate action."

According to Canavan, as the investigation was wrapping up, an HR representative called to ask if there was anything else she'd like to add. Canavan, who had initially requested an apology from the supervisor, said she repeated her request.

After pushback from the company, Canavan said they arranged a meeting with her, an HR representative and the assistant manager. During that meeting, he apologized for the fact that Canavan felt uncomfortable and said that was not his intent, according to Canavan.

"When you follow a 21-year-old woman around the store, making sexually charged comments about how she looks walking and how it makes you feel, what is your intent?" Canavan said.

From her perspective, he did not take accountability for his actions or understand why they were inappropriate.

"If any type of discipline was taken, it didn't work because he still doesn't recognize that what he did was sexual harassment," Canavan said.

While Canavan said she felt the store manager and the HR representative at the store were helpful, there was a failure to address the harassment and a no system of accountability at the district level. It's part of the reason she wanted to tell her story.

"I wouldn't be comfortable leaving a workplace and not reporting it, and not trying to hold him accountable, because otherwise I think I would just be doing a disservice to everyone else who works there and people in the community," Canavan said.

Today's stories — All too familiar:

— All too familiar: Local women share their stories of sexual harassment

— Yasmine Syed, Niskayuna: 'It's ... a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person'

— Nikita Hardy, Schenectady County: 'People roll their eyes'

— Ali Schaeffing, Albany: 'I know I didn't invite that'

— Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Schenectady: 'We need to make sure that people are speaking up'

— Madelyn Thorne, Schenectady County: 'This should have stopped a long time ago'

— Carmel Patrick, Schenectady: 'It seemed so universal'

— Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: 'I had no idea what to say or how to respond'

— Amanda Gonzalez-Barone, Glenville: 'It gets patronizing very quickly'

— What to do if you think you're being sexually harassed at the office

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