EEOC Sues Hearn-Kirkwood For Pay Discrimination and Retaliation

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Food Service Distributor Unlawfully Disciplined and Fired Female Worker Who Complained About Unequal Wages, Federal Agency Charges

BALTIMORE - Gilbert Foods, LLC, d/b/a Hearn-Kirkwood, a food service distributor, violated federal law when it engaged in a longstanding pattern of sex-based pay discrimination and fired a female worker who complained about being paid less than her male counterparts despite performing equal work, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.

Sonia Coates had nearly nine years of experience in food service product selection, including one year of previous experience with Hearn-Kirkwood, when she began working as an order selector in its Hanover, Md., facility, in 2011, according to the suit. Her duties included selecting and verifying merchandise for shipment, labeling products, and performing vehicle inspections.

According to the lawsuit, Hearn-Kirkwood paid Coates less than it paid entry-level male selectors and adjusted her pay in 2012, only after she complained to management about the pay disparities. In April 2013, however, Hearn-Kirkwood hired a male order selector with only one year of relevant experience, and paid him significantly more per hour than Coates, despite her having more experience, EEOC charged. When Coates learned about the pay disparity, she told coworkers she intended to file a discrimination charge.

According to the lawsuit, after a Hearn-Kirkwood manager learned about Coates's plan to file a charge, he informed Coates's supervisor that Hearn-Kirkwood planned to fire her without making it appear unlawful. Thereafter, Hearn-Kirkwood subjected Coates to a campaign of reprisal, including removing her from her position, subjecting her to unwarranted disciplinary actions, and ultimately terminating her in retaliation for her opposition to the pay discrimination, EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Gilbert Foods, LLC, d/b/a Hearn-Kirkwood, Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-02536-JKB) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Maryland, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

"Addressing sex-based pay discrimination is a priority issue for the Commission," said District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of EEOC's Philadelphia District Office said. "We will take strong action when an employer pays a female worker less than her male counterparts because of sex or retaliates against her because she had the courage to exercise her civil rights and seek equal pay for equal work."

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Fairness and federal laws mandate that employers pay a female worker the same as her male counterparts for equal work."

Enforcement of equal pay laws and targeting compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on gender is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.

The EEOC Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. The legal staff of EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecutes discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.

EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the agency is available at its website,

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.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

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