Birmingham Beverage to Pay $825,000 to Settle EEOC Lawsuit for Race Discrimination

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Beverage Wholesaler and Distributor Refused to Promote Black Employees to Route Sales Positions, Federal Agency Charged
 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Birmingham Beverage Company, Inc. doing business as AlaBev, a Birmingham-based wholesale distributor and importer of beer, cider, alcohol-free drinks and specialty foods, will pay $825,000 and furnish other relief to settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 26, 2017, charged the company with violating federal law when it failed to promote or consider Ronnie Johnson and other African American employees for vacant route sales positions. According to the EEOC’s suit, Johnson, a driver supervisor at the time, applied for a vacant route sales position. Despite six years of exemplary job performance with the company and previous route sales experience, Birmingham Beverage denied him an interview and instead promoted a white delivery driver with only nine months’ experience on the job, whom Johnson was supervising at the time.

In addition to Johnson, the EEOC charged that Birmingham Beverage repeatedly discriminated against Black employees in its promotion and hiring practices. During the four years prior to the EEOC’s lawsuit, many African American employees expressed interest in promotion; however, none were hired. Instead, the company hired or promoted at least 11 White applicants or employees to route sales positions to service its 22 routes. At the time of the lawsuit, Birmingham Beverage’s only two Black route salesmen were assigned to routes in predominantly African American neighborhoods.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Birmingham Beverage Co., Inc dba Alabev, Civil Action No. 2:17-CV-01651-MHH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency sought back pay as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief for Mr. Johnson and other Black employees who were similarly discriminated against.

In addition to the monetary settlement for Johnson and the 34 African American former and current employees, the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit includes injunctive relief intended to prevent future workplace discrimination. Birmingham Beverage has agreed to review and revise its written policies, including its hiring and promotion policy and process, to ensure equal employment and promotion opportunities are afforded to Black employees and applicants. The decree also requires the company to provide anti-discrimination training to all its employees, as well as additional training for all Alabama-based supervisory and management-level employees.

“This case illustrates the destructive and demoralizing impact race discrimination can have on employees when they are denied employment opportunities based on their race,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows. “For many years, African American workers at Birmingham Beverage demonstrated their fitness and desire for promotion but were denied employment opportunities because of the color of their skin. The EEOC will continue to investigate and, when necessary, litigate cases like this to ensure that all Americans are evaluated and judged for promotion based on their qualifications and not excluded because of their race.”

Bradley Anderson, district director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, said, “The law prohibits taking a person’s race into consideration when making employment-based decisions such as hiring or promotion. The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce all aspects of Title VII’s employment provisions, especially its prohibition against practices that discriminate on the basis of race.”

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, added, “This consent decree provides relief to African American employees who were denied their right to equal employment opportunities. The EEOC is pleased that Birmingham Beverage will hire a Title VII coordinator to ensure compliance with the decree so that this type of discrimination can be avoided in the future.”

Two of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) are eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring and preventing systemic harassment.

The EEOC’s Birmingham District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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