Hearn-Kirkwood Will Pay $63,500 to Resolve EEOC Pay Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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 Food Service Distributor Unlawfully Disciplined and Later Fired Female Worker Who Complained about Unequal Wages, Federal Agency Charged

BALTIMORE -Gilbert Foods LLC, trading as Hearn-Kirkwood, a food service distributor, will pay $63,500 and furnish significant equitable relief to resolve an EEOC pay discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on January 5, 2016.

EEOC charged that Hearn-Kirkwood paid Sonia Coates, an order selector, less than it paid male order selectors, even though she had more experience and performed equal work at its Hanover, Md. facility. When Coates learned that Hearn-Kirkwood paid a newly-hired male order selector significantly more per hour than she was earning, she told coworkers she intended to file a charge of discrimination.

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 intended to fire her without making it appear unlawful. Hearn-Kirkwood engaged in a pattern of retaliation, including unwarranted disciplinary actions that culminated in Coates' termination, EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Gilbert Foods LLC t/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.

 "Ensuring that employees can seek equal pay for equal work without being subject to reprisal is fundamental to the Commission's ability to enforce anti-discrimination laws," said District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office.

In addition to the $63,500 in back pay, compensatory damages and attorney's fees to Coates, the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins Hearn-Kirkwood from engaging in sex-based wage discrimination or retaliation. Hearn-Kirkwood will provide training on the laws prohibiting pay discrimination and other forms of employment discrimination to management and human resources officers. Hearn-Kirkwood will also report to the EEOC about its compliance with the consent decree, including how it handled any internal complaints of sex-based wage discrimination, and it will post a notice about the settlement.

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, "We are pleased that Hearn-Kirkwood worked with us to resolve this matter amicably. This resolution provides fair compensation to Ms. Coates for her wage loss and provides important equitable relief designed to ensure that employees are not subjected to pay discrimination or retaliation."

Enforcement of equal pay laws and targeting compensation systems and practices that discriminate based on gender is of one of six national priorities identified by the 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 the EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecutes discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.

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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