Utah Construction Company Pays $230,000 to Settle EEOC Racial Harassment and Retaliation Suit

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Court Found Holmes & Holmes' Work Environment Was Hostile to Blacks

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah construction company Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc. will pay three former employees $230,000 and improve its future employment practices to settle a race harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC filed suit against Holmes in September 2010, charging that the company subjected Antonio and Joby Bratcher and a class of African-American employees to racial harassment and retaliation. In a ruling last year, Judge Dale A. Kimball found that the Bratchers and class member James Buie 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 charged. Holmes fired one of the harassment victims for complaining about it.

The court also noted that the employer's anti-harassment policy was "unreasonable as a matter of law" because it directed employees to report harassment to their harassing supervisor with no alternative means to bypass that supervisor.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC et al. v. Holmes & Holmes Indus., Inc., No. 10-CV-955, D. Utah) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The Bratchers intervened in the EEOC's suit and alleged claims under Section 1981.

"Employers have an obligation to protect their employees from the use of racial slurs and epithets," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case is our latest in a series of successes to combat racial harassment in the workplace.  This conduct has no place nearly fifty years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

The $230,000 to be paid to the victims is the maximum Holmes would have to pay if all Title VII claims were won at trial for all three victims; each victim will receive $50,000 for compensatory damages, the maximum cap under the 1991 Civil Rights Act, and one victim will receive $80,000 in back pay because he was fired.

In addition to the monetary relief, Holmes also committed to implement several affirmative steps to prevent and address race-based conduct on the worksite. These measures include: a comprehensive training regimen on discrimination (including racial discrimination and harassment); discussions of harassment in work site meetings on a monthly basis; the provision of an external ombudsman to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination or retaliation; and a detailed review and revision of Holmes' policies and procedures concerning protected-class discrimination and retaliation.

"I am pleased that the investigation of this case was done by our sister agency, the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division; they share in this success," said Rayford Irvin, district director of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. "I am also proud of our legal team and everything they have done to successfully prosecute this case. Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan."

EEOC Trial Attorney Richard Sexton said, "The use of racial slurs is unacceptable in any workplace. The Bratchers and Mr. Buie never should have been subjected to this egregious conduct while simply trying to make a living."

Information on some other recent EEOC cases dealing with race harassment can be found at:
http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/2-1-13.cfm
http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-27-12g.cfm
http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/10-12-12.cfm

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC's Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque). Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

 

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