The family of a woman who was murdered nearly three years ago outside a Far East Side grocery store where she worked filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the store and its owners, alleging the store failed to protect her despite knowing that her killer had long harassed female co-workers and was accused of sexually assaulting one of them.
The estate of Caroline Nosal, 24, who was fatally shot Feb. 2, 2016, by former co-worker Christopher O’Kroley, 26, after leaving work at Metro Market, 6010 Cottage Grove Road, said in the lawsuit that the store and its owners and managers failed to warn Nosal about the risks she faced from O’Kroley’s “predatory behavior” toward female employees.
The lawsuit also accuses the store of failing to properly supervise or investigate O’Kroley after it learned of his behavior, including a failure to suspend him from work after an accusation of sexual assault by another Metro Market employee.
“The tragic events of that night would not have happened had defendants properly hired, trained and supervised O’Kroley, who had been the subject of multiple complaints by other female employees for his predatory and threatening behavior,” the lawsuit states.
O’Kroley pleaded guilty to first-degree intentional homicide five months after killing Nosal. He was sentenced in September 2016 to life in prison but committed suicide at Waupun Correctional Institution on May 2, 2017.
In June, Nosal’s father, James Nosal, filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against Metro Market and its parent companies on behalf of his daughter, but there is a pending motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Attorneys for the supermarket assert that the lawsuit was filed too late under the sexual harassment statute and that James Nosal does not have legal standing to file it. Should it survive the motion, that case is set to go to trial in February 2020.
He filed the lawsuit first without a lawyer but later retained a Florida employment law attorney.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by different attorneys representing Caroline Nosal’s estate. Those lawyers did not respond to messages on Thursday.
Laurie Peterson, a lawyer who represents Metro Market and its parent companies, Kroger and Roundy’s, said Thursday that the company does not comment on pending litigation.
According to the lawsuit:
O’Kroley was hired by Metro Market in July 2014. Soon after, he began to “systematically intimidate, threaten and harass female employees” at the store, many of whom told managers about his behavior.
Caroline Nosal told the store that O’Kroley had sent her threatening messages on Jan. 22, 2016, just over a week before she died, related to a friendship they had outside of work.
At that point, O’Kroley was suspended with pay. In an email from a loss prevention investigator to a manager, the manager was told that O’Kroley was accused several weeks earlier of sexual assault by a female co-worker and that there was talk of him having a relationship with a clerk who was 16.
The lawsuit states that because of the sexual assault allegations O’Kroley was taken from the store in handcuffs, and that state law allows employers to suspend employees pending the outcome of criminal charges, but Metro Market did not immediately do that.
Interviewed by the loss prevention investigator about O’Kroley’s text messages, Nosal said that although she was friends with O’Kroley, the messages made her feel so unsafe that she began carrying pepper spray. The investigator also interviewed O’Kroley, who said he believed Nosal was spreading rumors about him at work.
O’Kroley was fired over the phone on Feb. 1, 2016. Metro Market didn’t tell Nosal that he was being fired.
O’Kroley bought a gun that day and texted co-workers, trying to find out when Nosal would be leaving work, purportedly so he could collect his belongings without running into her. After missing her on Feb. 1, he got the same information on Feb. 2, then shot her when she got to her car in the store parking lot after work.