$322K Settlement Ends Harassment Nightmare for African American Workers at Fla. Workplace

This workplace was inhospitable to say the least for African-American employees–and now the employer is paying up.

Fanatics Retail Group Fulfillment, LLC, a Jacksonville-based online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise, including NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR merchandise, has agreed to pay $322,050 and furnish other relief to settle a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Fanatics’ Jacksonville workplace was racially divided, and the company subjected employees to racial slurs and comments such as “We don’t need any outbreak monkeys here.”  Human resources officials tasked with overseeing discrimination policies called African-American employees “baboons.” When an employee complained about the treatment, Fanatics failed to promote him as promised, and continued to tolerate a racially hostile work environment.

Such alleged conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and retaliation for against an employee for their opposition to discrimination.

The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-900-J-32PDB) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $322,050 monetary award, the consent decree provides injunctive relief to help secure a workplace free from unlawful racial harassment and retaliation in the future. This will include revision and redistribution of the company’s discrimination policy; training for human resources officials, managers, supervisors and non-management employees; posting of notice of the result of the underlying lawsuit and employee rights; creation of a hotline number to receive anonymous complaints of discrimination; and reporting to the EEOC about compliance and with details about future complaints of discrimination.

“This lawsuit revealed a racially hostile work environment no employee should have to endure,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg. “This settlement seeks to correct those wrongs, prevent their reoccurrence and put employers on notice that failing to address discrimination has consequences.”

EEOC District Director Michael Farrell said, “When employers fail to put a stop to pervasive discrimination, the EEOC will do what is necessary to seek justice for victims of discrimination and to work with employers to implement policies and training to ensure such discrimination is eradicated from the workplace.”

The EEOC’s Miami District Office is comprised of the Miami, Tampa and San Juan EEOC offices, and has jurisdiction over Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Texas Medical Providers Drop Illegal Questionnaire in EEOC ADA Settlement

These medical providers in Texas won’t anymore be asking illegal medical questions of their employees and applicants.

Pulmonary Specialists of Tyler and Sleep Health, medical providers in Tyler, Texas, will pay $30,000 and will change its policies and practices to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced yesterday.

According to the lawsuit brought by the EEOC in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Tyler Division) (Civil Action No. 6:18-cv-00338-RWS), Sleep Health required employees to complete a Medical Questionnaire that contained unlawful medical inquiries that were not job related nor required by business necessity.  The EEOC alleged that the medical questionnaire asked if employees had any of over 20 listed medical conditions, whether the employee had an impairment or disability, whether the employee had previous surgery or received a permanent disability rating.  Former employee Angela Abler answered all of the questions truthfully, stating that she had been injured on-the-job in 1996, and had back surgery, and as a result, was given a permanent partial disability rating.  However, this back surgery and resulting disability did not impact her ability to perform the work of Billing/Collections Specialist. Within a week after completing the medical questionnaire, Ms. Abler was terminated.

“PSOT and Sleep Health’s requirements for unnecessarily broad disclosure of this information was by itself a violation of the ADA.  Terminating Ms. Abler’s employment based upon her answers to the unlawful questionnaire just made matters worse with yet another violation,” said Supervisory Trial Attorney Suzanne M. Anderson for the EEOC.

A three-year consent decree, signed on April 15, 2019 by U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Schroeder III, calls for the defendants to provide monetary relief to Ms. Abler. The consent decree also specifies that the medical providers will cease use of the medical questionnaire and implement policies prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities.

“It can be a good thing to see businesses in the healthcare industry set an example for others when it comes to the ADA,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Canino.  “This constructive settlement is a good result for everyone involved.

OSHA Dings Employer $159K Over Amputations

What exposure does an employer face when it exposes its workers to risk of amputation from operating the machinery?

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Heritage Plastics Inc. for exposing employees to amputations at the company’s facility in Picayune, Mississippi. The plastics manufacturer faces $159,118 in penalties, including a willful violation that carries the maximum penalty allowed.

An employee suffered the amputation of four fingers when the mixing machine from which the employee was removing material unexpectedly started. OSHA inspectors determined that Heritage Plastics failed to require the use of a lockout device and train employees on procedures to control the release of hazardous energy. OSHA also cited the employer for failing to install machine guarding. The inspection is part of OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Amputations.”

“Proper safety procedures, including the effective lockout of all sources of energy, could have prevented this employee’s serious injury,” said OSHA Jackson Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon. “Employers must take proactive steps to develop and implement energy control procedures to minimize risk to their employees.”

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov.

Arby’s Franchisee Pays Big in Harassment Case

Parents of teenage daughters in these southern states should rest easier now with the conclusion of a sexual harassment case against a major fast food franchise.

Beavers’ Inc., owner and operator of 51 Arby’s locations in south Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, has agreed to pay $84,000 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced April 10.

The EEOC’s Mobile office investigated charges of discrimination filed by three teenage female crew members. The lawsuit charges that Beavers’ permitted a sexually hostile work environment based on ongoing sexually explicit comments and other harassment by an older male team leader at its Atmore, Alabama location. The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged the harasser described sexual acts he wanted to perform with the teen workers, made inappropriate remarks about his anatomy, and deliberately pressed his pelvis against two of the female employees. According to the lawsuit, the three teen workers, as well as other employees, complained multiple times to on-site management about the harassment but the company allowed the harassment to continue.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Beavers’ Inc., d/b/a Arby’s, Case No. 1:18-cv-00150) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Under the 48-month consent decree resolving the suit, Beavers’ will pay $84,000 to the three harassment victims, will develop and disseminate anti-harassment policies, and will train its employees and managers on the requirements of Title VII’s prohibitions against sexual harassment. In addition, the company will instruct employees on how to report sexual harassment, and how managers should investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

“The EEOC remains committed to protecting vulnerable employees, such as teen workers in their first jobs, from a sexually hostile work environment,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Bradley Anderson. “The EEOC is pleased that Beavers’ Inc. agreed early in the litigation process to take steps to prevent such harassment, and train its management how to promptly investigate and correct sexual harassment in the future.”

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said, “An anti-harassment policy is insufficient without proper training on how to recognize, report, and investigate sexual harassment. Employers must realize that young employees who lack workplace experience may be too intimidated to complain and need workable avenues to report harassment without further humiliation or embarrassment.”

The EEOC’s Youth@Work campaign (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/) is designed to teach teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. It includes curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities.

The EEOC’s Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.

Settlement Ends EEOC Suit Against Rehab Facility Over Refusal to Accommodate Pregnancy

Hopefully this employer and others in similar situations have learned their lessons about accommodation of pregnant workers.

PruittHealth-Raleigh, LLC will pay $25,000 and provide other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on Thursday. The EEOC charged that PruittHealth violated Title VII when it denied a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee with a medically imposed lifting restriction and then unlawfully required the employee to resign because of her pregnancy-related lifting restriction.

PruittHealth-Raleigh LLC, (PruittHealth) operates a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Raleigh, N.C. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, PruittHealth subjected Dominque Codrington, a certified nursing assistant, to disparate treatment by refusing to accommodate her pregnancy-related lifting restriction, while accommodating the restrictions of other non-pregnant employees who were injured on the job and who were similar in their ability or inability to work. The EEOC alleged that PruittHealth refused to accommodate Codrington and required her to involuntarily resign in lieu of termination.

Such alleged conduct violates Section 703(a) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000(e)-2(a), which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex (pregnancy) and requires employers to provide pregnant employees with the same reasonable accommodations as those provided to non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. PruittHealth-Raleigh, LLC; Civil Action No 5:18-cv-00165) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its concili­ation process.

In addition to the $25,000 in damages, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires that PruittHealth adopt, implement, and distribute a formal written policy that provides the opportunity for modified duty for pregnant employees with medically imposed, pregnancy-related work restrictions on the same basis that modified duty is provided to non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. PruittHealth also must provide annual training to its managers and supervisors at its Raleigh facility on the requirements of Title VII, specifically, the requirement that employers not take adverse employment actions against an employee based on her pregnancy.

“Employers must treat the work restrictions of pregnant employees just like those of non-pregnant employees,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Companies must be careful not to violate federal anti-discrimination law when they pick and choose which employees to accommodate.”

Falling Down: N.J. Contractor Fined $118K by OSHA for Hazards at Home Construction Site

Elimination of falling hazards continues to vex worksites in this country.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Brutus Construction Inc. for exposing employees to fall and other safety hazards at a worksite in Souderton, Pennsylvania. The company faces $181,699 in penalties.

An OSHA inspector observed employees working without fall protection on roofs at a residential construction site. OSHA cited Brutus Construction Inc. for willfully exposing employees to fall hazards, repeat safety hazards, and failure to provide fall protection training.

“Companies that fail to meet basic fall protection requirements place employees’ lives at risk,” said OSHA Allentown Area Director Jean Kulp.

OSHA has cited Brutus Construction Inc. 19 times in the past for similar hazards, and proposed nearly $440,000 in penalties.

The company, based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov

EEOC Kept Up Brisk Pace in 2018; 76,000 Plus Charges Handled, $505M Recovered for Victims

2018 was another very busy year at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC yesterday released detailed breakdowns for the 76,418 charges of workplace discrimination the agency received in fiscal year 2018. The comprehensive enforcement and litigation statistics for FY 2018, which ended Sept. 30, 2018, are posted on the agency’s website, which also includes detailed breakdown of charges by state.

The EEOC resolved 90,558 charges of discrimination.  Overall, the EEOC secured $505 million for victims in private sector, state and local government, and federal workplaces. The agency reduced the charge workload by 19.5 percent to 49,607. It achieved this through deploying new strategies to more efficiently prioritize charges with merit, more quickly resolve investigations, and improve the agency’s digital systems. The agency handled over 519,000 calls to its toll-free number, 34,600 emails and more than 200,000 inquiries in field offices, reflecting the significant public demand for the EEOC’s services.

You can read more about the breakdown of charges by bases alleged here.