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 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actively investigates charges of discrimination.
Here are some cases the EEOC filed or settled during April 2014:
Same-Sex Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
A car dealership settled a same-sex sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit with the EEOC for over $2 million for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on sex including harassment of individuals of the same sex.
The lawsuit alleges that a former male manager of the dealership subjected a class of men to egregious forms of sexual harassment including shocking sexual comments and inappropriate touching — and that the dealership retaliated against those employees who objected to the hostile work environment. Over 50 men are expected to receive monetary relief and the car dealership has agreed to extensive remedial measures to prevent additional violations.
A fast food restaurant will pay $100,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle charges it gave female workers discriminatory job assignments and fewer work hours in an effort to pay them less than their male counterparts for performing substantially equal duties. These violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act resulted in substantial lost income for female workers and their families.
A Minnesota company agreed to settle an EEOC lawsuit charging it failed to properly respond to reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the lawsuit, a male manager used the company's security camera to stream footage of a female co-worker's body parts onto his office computer. Although the female employee notified management about the activity, the company failed to correct the behavior and prevent it from recurring, forcing the employee to quit. The company agreed to be subject to a sweeping federal court injunction and pay $11,000 in emotional-distress damages to the former employee for Title VII violations.
The EEOC announced a $354,250 settlement with a wholesaler of makeup, beauty products, jewelry and other personal care items for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The wholesaler is accused of engaging in sex-based hiring practices that omitted men from certain managerial positions. Charges of retaliation were also lodged against the company for hiring a male employee as a manager following his complaints about discriminatory practices, only to set him up for failure and terminate him in retaliation for his complaints.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently ruled in favor of the EEOC that a city pension plan violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) by requiring that employees at least 40 years of age pay higher pension contributions than younger employees for the same pension benefits.
Similarly, the EEOC filed suit against a school district charging that its early- retirement plan violates the ADEA by penalizing older workers who opt to stay in the workforce and rewarding employees who retire at a younger age with greater economic benefits.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees because of their pregnancies.
Two companies — a weight loss company and an office furnishing and architectural store — agreed to pay $45,000 and $90,000 respectively, to settle separate pregnancy discrimination lawsuits. In both cases, applicants who successfully completed the interview and application process were refused positions when their pregnancies were revealed.
A trucking company faced similar charges stemming from an incident in which a pregnant employee experienced premature labor — which her doctor was able to stop — and requested several days off of work to recover. The employer placed her on leave and told her she could not return to work until after the birth of her baby. The company then fired her in response to the employee's complaint about the forced leave and her intention to file a pregnancy-discrimination charge. The company agreed to pay $27,000 and provide other relief.
A similar federal lawsuit was settled for $22,500 by an internal medicine practice for subjecting an employee to unequal treatment after learning of her pregnancy and then firing her when she complained of the discrimination.
Finally, the EEOC filed a pregnancy-discrimination suit against a personal training company for firing a physical trainer on approved medical leave for complications caused by her pregnancy.
An oil services company will pay $65,000 in damages to resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to make a good-faith effort to accommodate a disabled employee. According to the EEOC lawsuit, the company ignored the ADA's mandate to evaluate accommodation options for employees with disabilities when it fired an employee upon discovering he had diabetes.
An optical store agreed to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the EEOC for denying an optician's reasonable accommodation request to bring her service dog to work to help with her generalized anxiety disorder. The service dog would have allowed the optician to continue performing her duties by alerting her to oncoming panic attacks, alleviating symptoms during such attacks and assisting with other tasks. The optician was increasingly disciplined and ultimately terminated because of her disability in retaliation for her request. The optical store agreed to pay $53,000 in damages and furnish other relief to settle the charges.
A healthcare provider who terminated an employee suffering from Usher's syndrome — a genetic disorder that results in varying levels of vision and hearing loss — agreed to pay $180,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle the resulting lawsuit. The EEOC charged that the employer was required — absent proof of undue hardship — to reassign the employee to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities. Furthermore, after terminating the employee from her existing position, the healthcare system refused to rehire her to a different, open position both because of its perception of her disability, and in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
A consulting business agreed to pay $100,000 to a former employee fired because the company assumed that the employee's retinitis pigmentosa impaired his vision and interfered with his new driving-related job duties. The company is charged with violating the ADA by failing to determine if a reasonable accommodation would allow the otherwise qualified employee to carry out his duties despite his impairment.
A company agreed to pay $80,000 for violating the ADA by refusing to hire a qualified applicant with prostate cancer because, according to the testimony of a former employee, the company owner felt the applicant would "end up wearing diapers."
The EEOC won summary judgment in a case against a manufacturing company accused of violating the ADA by withdrawing a job offer based on the erroneous assumption that an applicant was disabled by an old back injury. Despite the fact that the applicant was in good health at the time of his application, and a recent medical examination showed no physical limitations on his ability to perform his job, the employer insisted the applicant provide a medical release for successful back surgery six years prior. When the applicant was unable to provide the release, the company withdrew its job offer without any individualized assessment of the applicant's ability to perform the essential functions of the position.
A pipe manufacturer is being sued for violating the ADA when it refused to provide unpaid leave to a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fired him as a result of his disability. After suffering seizures later determined to be caused by PTSD, the employee's doctor specifically restricted him from performing certain job functions for six weeks. The manufacturer denied the employee’s request for six weeks of unpaid medical leave, asserting that he was still a probationary employee, and subsequently terminated him. The EEOC maintains in its lawsuit that the manufacturer was required by the ADA to offer unpaid medical leave as a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability.
Employers can avoid costly investigations, litigation and negative publicity by implementing and enforcing an EEOC training program and compliance policy.