Company Fired Panama City Employee After He Reported Male Supervisor Sexually Harassed Him, Federal Agency Charged
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - ABL Management, Inc., a Baton Rouge, La.-based food management company, will pay $35,000 and furnish other relief to settle a retaliatory discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced yesterday.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, ABL assigned employee Duane Gatson to serve as a kitchen supervisor at the Bay County Jail Facility in Panama City, Fla. While working in an isolated food storage area, Gaston was approached and groped by a male kitchen manager, the EEOC said. Thereafter, Gatson reported the offending conduct to his immediate supervisor. Following his report, he was advised that the company would conduct an investigation regarding his charges. However, within several weeks of making his report of sexual harassment, ABL fired Gaston as retaliation for complaining, the EEOC said.
Such alleged misconduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who has participated in an investigation under Title VII, including an employer's internal investigation. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. ABL Management, Inc., 5:16-cv-00187-RH-GRJ) on June 30, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Panama City after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $35,000 payment, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit requires ABL to take specific actions designed to prevent future discrimination, including implementing policies and practices designed to prevent discrimination based on sex and retaliation, providing anti-discrimination training to employees, and posting anti-discrimination notices in its workplace. The decree also requires ABL to appoint a qualified consultant who will help implement policies, provide direction for potential investigations, and train ABL employees and managers about retaliation.
"When an employer fires an employee for complaining about sexual harassment, it sends the signal that it's not safe to resist discrimination," EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas said. "Employers should be aware that the law protects employees who report this kind of misconduct and that the EEOC will enforce laws that protect workers' rights."
EEOC Regional Attorney Marsha Rucker added, "The EEOC is committed to vigorous enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who report discrimination."
According to company information, Baton Rouge, La.-based ABL is a national food management company that contracts with businesses to provide finished meals, as well as commissary and laundry programs, to correctional, commercial, healthcare and educational facilities.
The EEOC's Birmingham District Office has jurisdiction for Alabama, Mississippi (all but 17 counties in the northern part of Mississippi), and the Florida Panhandle (including Panama City).
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.