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Two men allege sex harassment at Circuit City

Their suit says a Delco manager made unwanted contact and crude remarks.

The sexual harassment started, the workers said, when their boss, the general manager of the Circuit City store in Springfield Township, began to tickle their palms with his middle finger.

Next, according to a lawsuit filed against the company by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, came the unwanted shoulder massages and the crude comments about oral sex.

Then, there was the demand to bend over and pick up papers - right in front of the manager, the federal civil suit says. What followed next, the suit says, were demeaning assignments and reductions in hours.

The document reads like a standard-issue sexual-harassment situation - similar to 12,000 complaints filed annually with the EEOC and state agencies by employees complaining about uncomfortable conditions on the job.

But the lawsuit started with complaints by two male employees against their male manager.

James Babb, a spokesman at Circuit City's corporate offices in Virginia, wrote in an e-mail about the suit, which was filed in Philadelphia against the company: "Our policy is not to comment on pending litigation."

"Men have been uncomfortable" with filing these kinds of charges, said Mary Tiernan, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia office of the EEOC. "But as people become more aware of their rights, they feel more comfortable coming forward."

In fiscal 2006, 15.4 percent of sexual-harassment complaints came from men, up from 11.6 percent 10 years earlier, according to EEOC statistics. The statistics do not indicate the sex of the alleged harassers.

In this case, the two men, Jamal Booker and Christopher Snow, both of Philadelphia, had been working at the Circuit City store in Delaware County when Michael Groden started as manager in June 2005, the suit says.

The harassment began almost immediately, the suit says, and, when the men complained, they were punished. The suit says other unidentified male employees were also harassed when Groden tried to grab their private parts.

Snow resigned in September 2005, and Booker quit in January 2006, after complaining to other Circuit City officials about the problem.

Groden still works at the store but was on vacation yesterday, according to another manager, who would not identify himself. Efforts to reach Groden by phone or through Circuit City's general counsel and local lawyer were unsuccessful.

Snow and Booker, now in their 20s and working at other retail jobs, began full-time jobs at Circuit City just after high school, said their lawyer, Jeffrey Elliott of Kozloff Stoudt in Berks County.

"This was a huge company . . . with upward-mobility possibilities . . . and career opportunities which seemed very bright," he said.

"Everybody was just terrified," Elliott said. "You don't want to lose these opportunities."

Besides compensating Snow, Booker, and other affected men for damages, the EEOC wants Circuit City to strengthen its policies and training against sexual harassment, the suit said.

The EEOC received 75,768 complaints about age, sex, race and ethnic discrimination and harassment in 2006 and filed 403 lawsuits. The agency typically tries first to resolve complaints through mediation, filing suit after negotiations have failed.