Employment is heavily regulated in the U.S., where it is illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because he or she made a discrimination complaint, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment-discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Discrimination is getting more expensive for noncompliant employers as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actively investigates charges of discrimination.
Here are some cases the EEOC filed or settled during February 2014:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires that employers provide a harassment-free workplace and take action to investigate complaints and, when necessary, put an end to unlawful behavior.
Dollar General Corporation agreed to pay $27,500 and provide other relief to settle a sexual- harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The agency alleges that a Dollar General store manager sexually harassed female employees by making sexual comments and requesting sexual favors. At least one employee called the corporate hotline and complained of the harassment to an assistant manager, yet Dollar General failed to take any action to stop the manager's inappropriate conduct.
The EEOC filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against TNT Propane, Inc., claiming that a female employee was forced to quit her job to avoid a sexually hostile work environment. The EEOC complaint alleges that a female employee faced repeated requests for sex and unwanted touching by the company's owner. The employee ultimately resigned after being called to an isolated location, where the owner groped her breasts and buttocks, and placed her hand on his crotch. The EEOC noted such harassment by an owner is particularly deplorable since there is no one to whom an employee can turn to address the unlawful conduct.
A Washington State grower has agreed to pay $85,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit involving same-sex sexual harassment. The lawsuit claimed that over the course of almost two years, four male workers at Roy Farms faced a continuous stream of sexual and threatening comments and physical contact from the orchard's male supervisor. The employees reportedly complained of the harassment to both another supervisor and the farm's owner. When the employer took no action to stop the harassment, at least one employee resigned when he believed his physical safety was in jeopardy.
One of the nation's largest industrial staffing agencies, Jiudicy, Inc. —doing business as Labor Finders — will pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII for firing an employee three days after she complained of sexually harassing phone calls from her supervisor.
In another case of workplace retaliation, a federal district court ruled that Sparks Restaurant violated Title VII by firing an employee three weeks after his complaint about a racist display in the workplace, which included a dollar bill with a noose around George Washington's neck, and drawings of a man on horseback and a hooded figure with "KKK" written on his hood. The restaurant will pay an aggregate of more than $56,000 in back pay, interest and damages, in addition to administrative penalties.
Disability Discrimination/Sexual Harassment/Retaliation
The EEOC filed suit against PNS Investments, Inc., operating as Nick's Restaurant and Sports Bar for three kinds of unlawful discrimination disability discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. According to the lawsuit, when the restaurant hired Laura Kercheval — who has congenital achondroplasia dwarfism — as a server, it accommodated her with a modified work station that allowed her to retrieve drinks from a lower shelf behind the bar. However, when a new general manager disallowed the accommodation, he made no effort to find an alternative accommodation, reduced her work hours and thereafter fired her. Additionally, Kercheval claims the restaurant's owner repeatedly made unwelcome sexual comments and physical contact with her. Based on these charges of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII violations,the EEOC is seeking back pay on behalf of Kercheval, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages and other relief.
Boh Bros. Construction Co. has agreed to pay $125,000 in compensatory damages to a former employee in a sex discrimination/same-sex harassment case. The settlement stems from incidents that took place on a construction project, where a male supervisor harassed an employee with verbal abuse and taunting sexual gestures and by exposing himself. The supervisor admitted at trial that the harassment stemmed from his perception of the employee as feminine and not conforming with his idea of a "rough iron worker." Consequently, a jury — and subsequently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — found that Boh Bros. had allowed a hostile work environment to exist and had illegally subjected the employee to severe or pervasive harassment based on gender stereotypes in violation of Title VII.
Baptist Health South Florida, Inc. has agreed to pay $215,000 to settle a disability discrimination suit stemming from its reversal of its decision to accommodate a doctor's epilepsy by permitting her to limit her workday to eight hours and ultimately firing her because of her disability.
Right to communicate
The EEOC filed charges against CVS — the nation's largest integrated provider of prescriptions and health-related services — for violating employees' right to communicate with the EEOC and file discrimination claims. According the EEOC, CVS employed an overly broad severance agreement that restricted the ability of certain employees to file discrimination charges and/or communicate and cooperate with the EEOC. Such interference with employee rights violates Section 707 of Title VII, which prohibits employer conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII.
Extended Stay Hotels will pay $75,800 and provide significant equitable relief to settle charges that it paid female employees less than their male counterparts in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The EEOC has charged Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW) with refusing to promote an employee because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Despite the fact that the older employee was the most qualified applicant for the position, MLGW awarded the position to a younger, less-qualified applicant. The EEOC is seeking monetary relief in the form of back pay and liquidated damages, instatement and an injunction against future discrimination.
Employers can avoid costly investigations, litigation and negative publicity by implementing and enforcing a compliance program or policy.