Company Illegally Sued Former Employee in Retaliation for Complaint of Unequal Pay, Federal Agency Charges
ST. LOUIS - A Diamond, Mo., bearing manufacturer violated federal law by suing a former employee in retaliation for her complaint of pay discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Tera Lopez, a project manager for Hobson Bearing International, Inc., complained to EEOC that Hobson violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) by paying female employees less than male employees for performing equal work. EEOC investigated and issued no finding on the pay discrimination charge one way or the other. However, within weeks of EEOC completing its investigation and issuing Lopez the statutorily required right-to-sue notice, Hobson sued her in state court, contending that her EEOC complaint was malicious prosecution.
EEOC claims that Hobson's retaliatory lawsuit violates the EPA which, in addition to prohibiting unequal pay, prohibits discrimination against any employee or former employee because they file a complaint or institute a proceeding under the EPA. EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hobson Bearing International, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-05034-SWH) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
EEOC seeks monetary relief, an order directing Hobson to dismiss the malicious prosecution lawsuit, and an order requiring the company to implement new policies, practices, and training to prevent discrimination and retaliation.
"EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan has made a national enforcement priority of guaranteeing everyone access to the justice system without intimidation," said EEOC St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. "Hobson's action of bringing a baseless suit against Lopez is an egregious attempt to undermine her rights."
EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran added, "An employer is only making things worse when it punishes someone for making a discrimination charge, even if it strongly. The EPA protects employees who have the courage to challenge they believe to be discriminatory compensation practices from retaliation by their employers. Workers need to know that the law offers significant protections so they can confidently report evidence they may have of unequal pay."
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and a portion of southern Illinois. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.