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A man in the US is suing Trader Joe's for unfair dismissal following a staff prank gone wrong. Paul Roberts alleges that he was fired after he complained about being given an item shaped like a penis as part of a store gift exchange during a 2014 Christmas Party.

Mr Roberts was working at one of the chain's Pasadena stores at the time and wasn't overly impressed with the gift that looked like a male sex organ. He claims that when he complained about the gift, it resulted in his dismissal from the store.

In his Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, Mr Roberts alleges wrongful termination, negligence, retaliation, sexual harassment and failure to prevent sexual harassment. As a result, he is seeking punitive damages from Trader Joe's.

His complaint states that he was hired at the store in February 2007 as a crew member. In December 2014, a Christmas party gift exchange was arranged, with crew member attendance being "expected and implicitly required", he claims.

Mr Roberts attended the party even though it was on a day that he was not scheduled to work, as he felt it was important for maintaining relationships with coworkers. When he arrived at the party, he said that his coworkers seemed "excited" that he was there and wanted him to open his gift.

The complaint says: “Plaintiff opened the wrapped package and was shocked, embarrassed and humiliated to discover that the gift was a small penis with testicles which, when submerged in water, would increase in size.

“Mr. Roberts was incredibly distraught in receiving such an obnoxious and offensive item, particularly in front of his supervisor and having received it from a female.”

He said that he left the party feeling embarrassed and humiliated. He later filed an internal complaint, telling supervisors that if he had given a female coworker a gift like he received, there would have been consequences for him. Mr Roberts states that one boss did not take him seriously and was flippant about the event.

Human resources for the company told him in January 2015 that his complaint was being looked into but he was then fired two days later.