Eight Book Exchange employees have quit in the last two weeks in reaction to what those employees say is inappropriate handling of sexual-harassment complaints regarding one of the store’s owners. Three women who have worked at the store, including one who just quit, told the Independent that they were closely followed or inappropriately touched by Nabil Haddad, the husband of the store’s owner and manager, Rebecca Haddad.
Miranda Keenan and Melanie Sourbeer told the Independent about incidents in 2014 and 2016, respectively, when they say Haddad grabbed or slapped their buttocks. Both women reported the incidents to a manager, and afterwards, they say, Nabil Haddad behaved differently around them in a way they interpreted as punishment for having reported the incidents.
In March, store manager Kyle McAfee watched Nabil follow a young female customer around the store for an extended period of time with his phone in his hand. A few days later, former employee Sunshine Tucker says, Nabil closely followed her around the store for an hour, and she suspected that he took photos of her from behind after she heard his phone make a noise. Tucker says she was frightened, and she shut herself in the store restroom to escape. Another store employee corroborates Tucker’s account, and Tucker provided the Indy with text messages she sent to friends while she was hiding in the bathroom.
Tucker told longtime Book Exchange employee and manager Stephen Torrez, who is described by other employees as popular and trusted, about the incident.
In early May, during what Torrez said he expected to be a tense meeting with the Haddads about disagreements over store schedules and the computerized inventory system, Torrez raised concerns about how sexual-harassment complaints were handled. It is widely believed among store employees that raising that issue is why Torrez, who had worked at the store since 2002, was fired in that meeting.
His departure shook the staff, and then, on May 21, Rebecca Haddad wrote a note in the store’s logbook regarding employees’ clothing, instructing them to dress more modestly:
Re: Appropriate Business Attire. Please keep in mind that you represent this store. In recent years clothing has become more & more revealing. While this may be the “fashion,” let’s face it, most [of] the population is neither supermodel slender nor able to carry off these “fashions” attractively. … Skin tight leggings, lycra, and other tight-fitting attire invite stares, so if customers and others are staring (this includes me) we ARE, but NOT in admiration!
Tucker understood the note to be Rebecca Haddad’s response to the allegations against her husband, and to blame employee dress for any inappropriate action on Nabil’s part. Tucker submitted her resignation the next day and told Rami Haddad, Rebecca and Nabil’s son, the store’s de facto HR person, that if she hadn’t already been planning to quit pending her imminent move from Missoula, she would have quit after seeing the note. Rami hadn’t seen the note when Tucker mentioned it, she said, but after reading it, he removed it from the log.
Five more employees gave notice soon after, including Abbey Nelson, who says she quit when Rami Haddad asked if she would be interested in a management position. “I just asked what they were going to do about the sexual-harassment business, and they said, ‘What do you mean? We’re not going to do anything.’” Nelson says Rami defended his father by saying that no allegations of harassment had ever arisen during Nabil’s time at the University of Montana, where he was a professor of psychology from 1976 to 2013 and served as department chair for 14 years.
Tucker went public with her experience by posting a photograph of Rebecca Haddad’s clothing note on her Facebook wall on June 5, the day after her last Book Exchange shift. At press time the post had 181 shares.
Two days later, on June 7, Rami Haddad and his brother Ian, who operates the Liquid Planet outlet inside the Book Exchange, met with an attorney, Rami Haddad told the Independent. On Friday, June 8, the Haddad brothers responded to an email from the Independent by saying that an independent investigation had been initiated “to determine the specific nature of the allegations.” The statement says the brothers found their mother’s dress code note inappropriate and apologized for it. “We have also recently become aware of allegations of behavior that could be inappropriate or that may have made others feel uncomfortable. We, as owners, were not made aware of these allegations until recently. As of today, we are hearing of new allegations posted online which we were also previously unaware of,” they wrote. “Because the allegations are against a family member, we recognize the potential perception that we have a bias. Accordingly, we are having a non-family member who is a legal professional run an independent investigation.”