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Veterans nonprofit to pay $1.5M to 12 women

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(The Center Square) – The owner of a small Washington-based veterans nonprofit is in hot water after a jury ordered on Thursday that he and the business pay approximately $1.5 million for sexually harassing 12 women.

The decision stems from a civil rights lawsuit filed by the state’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, in 2022; his complaint alleged that Thelbert Lawson Jr., CEO and founder of Operation Veterans Assistance & Humanitarian Aid, had violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

Lawson’s OVAHA operates two businesses, the Veterans Warehouse Thrift Store in Wenatchee and the Veterans Thrift Store in Kennewick. Both are overseen by a board consisting of himself, his wife and other family members and friends.

“What happened at OVAHA is repulsive, inexcusable and illegal,” Ferguson said in a news release. “I want to thank the workers, volunteers, and members of the public for their courage in speaking up. My team fought for them, and together, we won.”

The jury concluded that Lawson sexually harassed seven of his employees, making unwarranted physical contact while frequently questioning their sex lives.

According to the release, Lawson would ask the women “how often they have sex, whether they use sex toys, requesting sexual favors, and asking employees to expose their bodies to him.”

However, after being rejected by one employee, Lawson called to inform her that she was no longer on the schedule, warning that he “was untouchable” and “knew police officers and judges,” according to the release.

The Jury also found that Lawson sexually harassed and even assaulted some volunteers and other people who shopped at the stores; one woman in particular managed to get a restraining order after Lawson “locked her in a basement room with him and she had to run past him to escape,” according to the release.

He was later convicted of criminal assault in 2021 after a different incident in which he trapped a person in his office and forcibly dry-humped her. According to the release, OVAHA posted Lawson’s appeal bond not long after, so he only spent 75 days in jail.

After he got out, Lawson returned to OVAHA despite everything that happened.

However, he likely knew a more twisted fate was yet to come. According to the release, Lawson held a staff meeting after finding out that an employee had contacted a lawyer about what was happening.

“Don’t piss me off, I know how to make your lives a living hell,” Lawson said to his employees at the meeting, according to the release.

Thursday’s decision ordered Lawson and OVAHA to pay $1.45 million to the 12 women who he harassed, as well as a little over $17,000 in back wages to employees.

Ferguson expressed intent to file a post-trial motion that could prevent Lawson from reassuming a position of power to supervise or harass women in the future.

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