Water Company Fired Foreman Because He Complained about Racial Slurs, Federal Agency Charged
PHILADELPHIA - Aqua Resources Inc., a Delaware-based water and wastewater service company, will pay $150,000 and provide significant equitable relief to settle a federal racial harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC said that a white superintendent and white foremen at Aqua Resources' Bear, Del., facility repeatedly made derogatory and offensive comments to and about an African-American foreman and black employees, including calling them racial epithets such as "n----r," "monkey," and "boy."
The African-American foreman complained to company management officials about the racially hostile work environment. Aqua Resources not only failed to stop the harassment, it instead promoted one of the harassers and even assigned him to supervise the African-American foreman, according to the suit. The company fired the black foreman in retaliation for complaining about the racially hostile work environment, the EEOC charged.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to harass employees on the basis of race or to retaliate against employees who complain about discrimination. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Aqua Resources, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-04346) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $150,000 in monetary relief to the African-American foreman and class members, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins Aqua Resources from engaging in discrimination based on race or unlawful retaliation in the future. The company will provide training on federal anti-discrimination laws, including preventing harassment. Aqua Resources will implement and disseminate to all employees a revised anti-harassment policy, and will also post a notice regarding the settlement. The company will also provide the black foreman with a neutral reference letter.
"This is almost a textbook case on how not to handle a harassment complaint," said EEOC Philadelphia District Office Director Jamie R. Williamson. "Employers must take prompt action to stop harassment -- not reward a wrongdoer by promoting him and punish the victim by firing him."
EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Preventing harassment is an EEOC priority. We are satisfied with the monetary relief as well as the broad injunctive and training provisions designed to protect all employees from harassment."
The EEOC's Philadelphia District Office is one of four offices in the Philadelphia District, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan. In 2015, the Commission convened a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, led by Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum and current Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. The report includes detailed recommendations for harassment prevention, including a chart of risk factors that may permit harassment to occur; effective policies and procedures to reduce and eliminate harassment; recommendations for future research and funding; and targeted outreach. In addition, it offers a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers and other stakeholders. It can be found on the agency's website at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/6-20-16/index.cfm .
According to company information, Aqua Resources, Inc. is a Delaware domestic corporation that provides water and wastewater service through operating and maintenance contracts with municipal authorities and other parties close to its utility companies' service territories. The company offers, through a third party, water and sewer line repair service and protection solutions to households.