Over the past week, the EEOC announced settlements in 3 separate cases. These cases involved racial harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and disability discrimination. They also announced that a defendant that settled a case was held in contempt of court for not complying with the order signed by the court.
Racial Harassment. Utah construction company, Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc. agreed to pay 3 employees a total of $230,000, the maximum allowed by law, as well as several affirmative steps to prevent and address race-based conduct on the work site. In September, 2010, the EEOC filed its suit against Holmes, alleging racial harassment and retaliation. The court, in a ruling issued last year, found that 3 workers were subjected to an objectively hostile work environment based on race. The court observed that the site superintendent, Paul E. Facer, referred to the African-American employees as "n----rs" or a variation of that word almost every time he spoke to them. Other Holmes employees used the term "n----r-rigging" while working there, and racist graffiti was evident both inside and outside portable toilets on the work site. Finally, the EEOC alleged that Holmes fired one of the harassment victims for complaining about it. Holmes also agreed to implement a comprehensive training program on discrimination, discussions of harassment in work site meetings on a monthly basis, and a review and revision of the policies and procedures concerning protected-class discrimination and retaliation.
Pregnancy Discrimination. In Las Vegas, where things that happen in Vegas don't always stay in Vegas, a female employee at Engineering Documentation Systems, Inc., became pregnant. Upon learning of her pregnancy, a management official allegedly made derogatory remarks about her condition and denied her request to move her office closer to the restroom to accommodate her severe nausea and vomiting. When she was absent due to her pregnancy leave, her job description was changed, adding the requirement that she be certified to carry live ammunition and explosives. EDSI failed to engage in the interactive process or to accommodate her, and terminated her while she was on a leave of absence. Her husband, who also worked for EDSI, was demoted and eventually terminated after complaining about his wife's treatment and participating in the EEOC investigation. EDSI agreed to pay her and her husband a total of $70,000, and entered into a 4 year consent decree.
Disability Discrimination. In Minneapolis, Applied Vacuum Technology will pay $50,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. Larry Kating, an employee of AVT, was fired after he sought to return to work after being hospitalized for a week. AVT knew about the hospitalization, but fired him for failing to call in every day during the hospitalization. The EEOC alleged that AVT regarded him as having a disability. In addition to the $50,000 paid to Kating, AVT agreed to a consent decree covering 5 years. AVT must train employees as to workplace policies and to laws against discrimination, with the training session being introduced by AVT's president or chief executive officer.
Practice pointers. Having successfully litigated against the EEOC several years ago in a lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination, I can personally attest to damage done to a company that is involved in an EEOC lawsuit. The time, expense, bad publicity and stress are all great. Although lawsuits cannot always be avoided, it is better for companies to have up to date policies and procedures, and proper programs for educating and training all employees, from top to bottom, on them.
Dairy Queen Franchisee Held in Contempt. YS&J Enterprises, a Dairy Queen franchisee in North Carolina, entered into a settlement agreement with the EEOC after the EEOC initiated a lawsuit alleging that the company subjected Chastity Hill-Cox, an 18 year old employee, to a sexually hostile work environment. The settlement was approved in October, 2012 and required YS&J to pay Hill-Cox $17,500. Further remedial relief was approved, including an injunction against YS&Y from further subjecting employees to discrimination based on their sex or from retaliating against employees for opposing such discrimination. YS&J was also required to redistribute its sexual harassment and retaliation policy to managers and supervisors, and conduct anti-discrimination training for managers and supervisors. YS&J failed to meet any of the terms of the settlement agreement, including failing to pay $17,500 to Hill-Cox. In January 2013, the EEOC filed a motion to require YS&J to show cause why it should not be held in contempt: After a hearing on the matter, the court entered an order on April 10 holding YS&J in civil contempt, and required the company to immediately comply with all the terms and conditions of the decree. The court also imposed a fine of $1,000 a day until the decree was fully complied with.
Practice pointer. When an agreement is entered into by the parties, and a court order is signed, all parties must comply with the order. Failure to do so can result in fines, and, on rare occasions, incarceration.