The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former Kroger grocery store employee’s suicide was a result of ‘torturous conditions,’ lawsuit says

(Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
4 min

In the early hours of March 9, Ken Seyfried found his 40-year-old son, Evan, dead in his childhood room at their Loveland, Ohio, home. Evan had taken his own life.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Hamilton County court, Evan Seyfried’s family members allege his workplace, a Kroger grocery store in Milford, Ohio, is responsible for his suicide — a “wrongful death” that was the result of an alleged six-month harassment campaign by two of his co-workers. The lawsuit alleges the co-workers sabotaged Seyfried at work, had people stalk him outside of his home and threatened to frame him for possessing child pornography.

“This is a horrific situation for the family,” Ken Seyfried told The Washington Post.

Despite Evan Seyfried’s attempts to alert Kroger management of the alleged abuses, the company did not help him, the lawsuit alleges.

The family is suing for monetary damages. “Evan was dedicated to his career with Kroger,” the lawsuit said of the 19-year employee. “In return, Kroger intentionally subjected Evan to torturous conditions that were directly responsible for his death.”

Kroger spokeswoman Kristal Howard told The Post on Thursday that the company was unable to comment on the pending litigation. She said the company is “offering counseling services to our associates at the Milford, Ohio, location” after Seyfried’s death.

“The loss of any associate is heartbreaking for our company,” Howard said in a statement. “We share our sympathies with the Seyfried family and our associates following the loss of longtime associate Evan Seyfried.”

Seyfried, his family members told The Post, was born in Cincinnati and grew up about 20 miles northeast of the city in the Loveland area. After graduating from high school, Seyfried got a job at a Kroger in nearby Milford and eventually became the dairy department manager. He stayed 19 years, quitting only days before his death.

His parents, Ken and Linda, and his older brother, Eric, described Seyfried as a sensitive and empathetic person who liked to read and cared deeply about justice and social causes. That may have led to conflict with co-workers who did not share his beliefs, the family members said in an interview.

Nevertheless, “everybody that reached out to us pretty much said the same thing,” Eric Seyfried said. “He was one of the kindest people [they had] met, and one of the smartest.”

In October 2020, as the country remained in the throes of the covid-19 pandemic, Seyfried’s life became a “living hell” at work, the lawsuit claims. One of the store’s supervisors allegedly began harassing Seyfried for wearing a face mask at work and highlighted the difference in their political beliefs. Some of Seyfried’s co-workers allegedly began calling him “antifa,” referring to a loosely knit group of far-left activists.

The supervisor also allegedly made several unwanted “sexual advances” toward Seyfried, “which he reported with zero recourse,” the lawsuit says.

They were sexually harassed at work. They reported it. Here’s what happened.

Soon, according to the lawsuit, the supervisor’s harassment turned into sabotage. The lawsuit alleges the supervisor would intentionally leave “holes” in dairy department schedules, creating extra work for Seyfried.

Then people began following Seyfried home from work, the lawsuit says. Neighbors noticed “occupied, unfamiliar vehicles parked on the street for unusually long periods of time,” and Seyfried believed the people outside his home were co-workers his supervisor had pitted against him.

In January, Seyfried began receiving threats, the lawsuit says. A second supervisor at the store allegedly told Seyfried he could track his Internet usage “at all times.”

Also on the receiving end of alleged workplace sabotage, one of Seyfried’s co-workers called the company’s ethics helpline and reported she and Seyfried were being bullied. But no action was taken. Seyfried had also made multiple complaints to the union, but he saw no changes, the lawsuit alleges.

Kroger, the lawsuit claims, denied a request from Seyfried to transfer to another store.

Seyfried, meanwhile, helped two female employees file sexual harassment complaints against one of their supervisors. That is when Seyfried began receiving text messages from unknown numbers. “Are you going to try and get us?” one of the texts read. Another said, “Are you going to sue the company?”

Then the person sending the threatening texts allegedly started sending Seyfried messages “containing explicit child pornography,” the lawsuit states.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges Seyfried’s co-workers sabotaged him on the day of a regional audit by placing old milk on his shelves. Seyfried was written up nine times despite never having received a formal reprimand in his 19-year career, it adds, and he feared he would be fired.

“Evan was distraught,” the lawsuit says. “Between the audit, the stalkers, the threatening text messages and child pornography, and the general toxic workplace environment, Evan felt unsafe.”

He moved in with his parents.

In the ensuing days, Seyfried was frantic, the lawsuit says. He was worried about the results of the audit, but more so that his co-workers were monitoring his phone and were planning to frame him.

So Seyfried quit, and he and his father visited a law firm “to see if anything could be done about Evan’s phone.”

Before entering the office, though, Seyfried experienced a “transient episodic break,” the lawsuit says. He ran into a building without his father, and then “threw away all his possessions.”

Two hours later, Seyfried’s father found him “wandering the streets.”

When they got back home, Seyfried said he would seek medical attention. Around midnight, he told his father his supervisors were going “get him” and “things would get ugly.”

According to the lawsuit, those were the last words he said to his father. Two hours later, Ken Seyfried found his son dead.

“No one ever wants to say, 'My son was.’ I guess we have to do that now,” Seyfried’s mother, Linda, told The Post. “We have to pick up the pieces … and go to our new normal without our beloved Evan.”

Timothy Bella contributed to this report.