Fingerprint Spat Lands Debt Recovery Co. in Court Opposite EEOC in Religious Rights Case

Religious accommodation under Title VII could include an exemption from fingerprinting.

AscensionPoint Recovery Services, LLC (APRS), a Minnesota-based estate and probate debt recovery company that manages decedent debt recovery for creditors, violated federal law when it fired a Christian employee instead of accommodating his request not to be fingerprinted due to his religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed last Thursday.

The EEOC’s pre-suit investigation revealed that APRS had requested that its employees be finger-printed as a result of a background check requirement of one of its clients. Shortly after the Christian employee informed APRS that having his fingerprints captured was contrary to his religious practices, APRS fired him at their St. Louis Park, Minn., office. APRS did so without asking the client whether an exemption was available as a religious accommodation, and despite the fact that alternatives to fingerprinting are available.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s religious practice unless it would pose an undue hardship.

The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. AscensionPoint Recovery Services, LLC, Civil Action No. 0:21-cv-01428, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric C. Tostrud. The government’s litigation effort will be led by EEOC Trial Attorneys Adrienne Kaufman and Kelly Bunch and supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Justin Mulaire.

“An employee should not have to choose between his faith and his livelihood,” said Gregory Gochanour, the EEOC’s regional attorney in the Chicago District Office. “The EEOC is committed to enforcing the rights of religious employees, and Title VII requires that an employer attempt to find a workable solution when an employee’s sincerely held religious observance or practice conflicts with a work requirement.”

Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman added, “Federal law is clear: Employers cannot refuse to provide a religious accommodation unless it presents an undue hardship. Despite this obligation, APRS fired this employee the same day of his accommodation request — failing to even explore readily available solutions. When a company violates federal anti-discrimination laws this way, the EEOC will step in.”

The EEOC’s Chicago District Office which is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

OSHA Fines Tortilla Maker $218K in Safety Probe

Making tortillas shouldn’t come at the price of life and limb.

Previous inspections by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration have given the operators of a family owned tortilla factory south of Austin every opportunity to resolve its safety issues. Yet, OSHA has found the company still exposing workers to the risks of amputation and other serious injuries.

Worker complaints of dangerous amputation hazards led OSHA to again investigate conditions at El Milagro of Texas Inc. and the agency’s inspectors determined that the company once again failed to follow hazardous energy control procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or movement during maintenance and servicing. As a result, inspectors cited El Milagro for three repeat violations related to energy control and four serious violations for failing to follow lockout/tagout procedures.

OSHA also cited the company for a repeat violation for failing to fit-test workers using respirators, and a serious violation for not performing medical evaluations for respirator use. The agency has proposed $218,839 in fines. OSHA cited the company for the same violations in 2015 and 2018.

“More than half of workplace amputations involve some type of machinery, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Energy control and lockout/tagout procedures are vital to protecting workers in manufacturing facilities,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin, Texas. “OSHA will hold employers accountable when they fail to comply with requirements to prevent worker exposure to dangerous hazards.”

El Milagro of Texas has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and 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.

Exposed: R.I. Medical Practice Fined $136K by OSHA For Not Protecting Employees From Covid

The coronavirus may be waning–but its aftereffects linger.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the owner-operator of four Rhode Island medical facilities for failing to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus and implement proper safety measures after six employees tested positive for the virus in the fall of 2020.

OSHA investigators found the owner of North Providence Urgent Care Inc., North Providence Primary Care Associates Inc., Center of New England Urgent Care Inc. and Center of New England Primary Care Inc. willfully exposed employees to the coronavirus. The agency determined the owner continued to interact with workers and did not fully implement safeguards after he exhibited symptoms of the virus and later tested positive.

The owner and his companies face a proposed fine of $136,532 for failing to:

  • Implement engineering controls, such as portable high-efficiency particulate air fan/filtration systems, and barriers between adjacent desks;
  • Implement administrative controls, such as cleaning and disinfecting, and symptom screening of all employees; and
  • Mandate contact tracing or quarantine periods after employee exposure to coronavirus-exposed patients.

“This employer placed workers and others at risk of contracting the coronavirus. Employers have a responsibility to isolate workers and themselves if they show symptoms of the virus,” said OSHA Area Director Robert Sestito in Providence, Rhode Island. “Protecting employees and patients by implementing timely and effective safeguards and controls to minimize exposure is critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

Read more about feasible and acceptable means of abatement for this hazard.

The employer has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and 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.

On March 12, OSHA launched a national emphasis program focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus. The program also prioritizes employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.

View OSHA’s COVID-19 information and resources.

OSHA Dangles $21M in Grants to Nonprofits

Get your grant application machinery going for money for safety improvements from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday announced funding opportunities for more than $21 million in Occupational Safety and Health Administration training grants for non-profit organizations.

The first availability will provide $10 million under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021for Workplace Safety and Health Training on Infectious Diseases, including the Coronavirus grants.

To be eligible for these grants, applicants must develop training that focuses on four program emphasis areas:

  • Identifying and preventing workplace-related infectious diseases, including the coronavirus, in industries with high illness rates, those employing frontline workers or those serving susceptible populations.
  • OSHA standards that address infectious diseases, including coronavirus.
  • Workplace hazards identified in OSHA special emphasis programs or other priorities associated with infectious diseases, including the coronavirus.

Applications must be submitted at http://www.grants.gov no later than 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 19, 2021. Applicants must possess a D-U-N-S number and have an active System of Award Management registration. Obtain a free D-U-N-S number from Dun & Bradstreet.

The second funding availability is for the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Funding of $11,787,000 is available for Targeted Topic Training, Training and Educational Materials Development, and new Capacity Building grants.

Applicants can apply for a grant under one of the following funding opportunities:

  • Targeted Topic Training grants support educational programs that identify and prevent workplace hazards. These grants require applicants to conduct training on OSHA-designated workplace safety and health hazards.
  • Training and Educational Materials Development grants support the development of quality classroom-ready training and educational materials that identify and prevent workplace hazards.
  • Capacity Building grants assist organizations that need time to assess needs and formulate a plan before moving forward with a full-scale safety and health education program, as well as expand their capacity to provide occupational safety and health training, education and related assistance to their constituents.

Applicants may apply for and receive both an ARPA “Workplace Safety and Health Training on Infectious Diseases, including the Coronavirus” grants and the standard Susan Harwood Training grants.

Applications must be submitted at http://www.grants.gov no later than 11:59 p.m. EDT on Aug. 17, 2021. Applicants must possess a D-U-N-S number and have an active System of Award Management registration. Obtain a free D-U-N-S number from Dun & Bradstreet.

OSHA awards grants to nonprofit organizations, including community and faith-based organizations, employer associations, labor unions, joint labor/management associations, Indian tribes, and local and state-sponsored colleges and universities to provide infectious disease workplace safety and health training.

The Harwood Training Grant program supports remote and in-person hands-on training for workers and employers in small businesses; industries with high injury, illness, and fatality rates; and vulnerable workers, who are underserved, have limited English proficiency, or are temporary workers.

Learn more about the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program.

Squeaky Wheel: Wis. Auto Parts Seller Violated ADEA in Rejecting Older Applicant, Jury Finds

Be careful in asking when a job applicant graduated from school.

A jury has determined that RockAuto, a Madison, Wis.-headquartered internet-based auto parts seller, violated federal law when it failed to hire a qualified job applicant because of his age, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Monday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the applicant, Glenn McKewen, applied for a position as a supply chain manager at the company’s Madison headquarters in 2016. McKewen had years of relevant experience as well as relevant bachelor’s and master’s degrees. RockAuto, after receiving McKewen’s application, emailed him to ask in what year he received his undergraduate degree. When McKewen revealed a graduation year more than 20 years prior to his application, RockAuto rejected him the next day. RockAuto, however, passed other, significantly younger applicants who lacked McKewen’s experience and credentials through its interview and hiring process, the EEOC charged.

Such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

After a two-day trial, the jury found in favor of the EEOC. Damages for McKewen are to be determined by the court at a later date.

“The law forbids employers from denying a job to an applicant because of his age,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “If RockAuto had given McKewen’s application fair consideration, and had not rejected him because of his age, he very likely would have been hired. The jury sent a strong message to RockAuto and other employers that they may not use age as a factor when deciding whom to hire, and that if they do, they put them-selves in legal jeopardy.”

The case was tried for the EEOC by Leslie Carter and Elizabeth Banaszak.

The EEOC’s Chicago District is responsible for investigating charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

With Pride: New EEOC Resources Put Spotlight on Rights of LGBTQ+ Applicants and Employees

The agency makes a push to educate the public on protections under federal law from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is observing LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, by announcing the release of new resources to educate employees, applicants and employers about the rights of all employees, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, to be free from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment. The materials include a new landing page on the EEOC website that consolidates information concerning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and a new technical assistance document to help the public understand the Bostock decision and established EEOC positions on the laws the agency enforces.

The new landing page consolidates information the public needs to know about the scope of protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as information about harassment, retaliation and how to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.  Additionally, there are links to EEOC statistics and updated fact sheets concerning recent EEOC litigation and federal sector decisions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.  

“All people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, deserve an opportunity to work in an environment free from harassment or other discrimination,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said. “The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is a historic milestone that resulted from the struggle, sacrifice, and vision of many brave LGBTQ+ individuals and allies who had championed civil rights for the LGBTQ+ communities. The new information will make it easier for people to understand their rights and responsibilities related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

These materials are part of EEOC’s effort to ensure that the public can find accessible, plain language materials in a convenient location on EEOC’s website.  Neither the new landing page nor the new technical assistance document, titled “Protections Against Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” state new EEOC policy; rather, these resources rely on previously voted positions adopted by the Commission.  The technical assistance document:

  • Explains the significance of the Bostock ruling;
  • Compiles in one location information about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination;
  • Consistent with Bostock, reiterates the EEOC’s established positions on basic Title VII concepts, rights, and responsibilities as they pertain to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and
  • Provides information about the EEOC’s role in enforcing Title VII and protecting employees’ civil rights

Ignored Harassment’s Cost to N.Y. Walmart Store is $410,000 in Lawsuit Settlement With the EEOC

Putting your head in the sand when there’s sexual harassment in the workplace is sure to backfire eventually.

Walmart Stores East, LP will pay $410,000 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced Monday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, from 2014 to 2018 a male employee of Walmart’s store in Geneva, N.Y., regularly made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to female co-workers and touched female co-workers without their consent. The EEOC alleged that Walmart management knew of the conduct for years, including having received written complaints.

The EEOC charged that the male employee regularly made vulgar comments about the bodies of female employees, including commenting on female co-workers’ breasts and buttocks. The EEOC further alleged that the male employee subjected female workers to unwanted touchings, including pressing his crotch against a co-worker’s buttocks. According to the EEOC’s complaint, he told one female co-worker, “I can’t wait to see you in these,” referring to thong underwear. The EEOC also alleged that the male employee repeatedly invited female employees to hang out alone with him despite being rejected, and graphically stated that he wanted to have sex with female co-workers who had told him they were not interested.

The federal agency further charged that one female employee, whom was harassed for years and who reported the employee’s misconduct to management multiple times, was forced to resign when Walmart management failed to stop his harassment and instead advised her to “stand up” for herself and put her “big girl panties on.”

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Civil Action No. 6:19-cv-06718-CJS-MWP) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process.

A three-year consent decree settling the suit, entered by Judge Charles J. Siragusa, provides for $175,000 in monetary damages for the young woman who was forced to resign and $235,000 for a class of victims. The decree enjoins Walmart from creating a hostile work environment based on sex in the future. The decree requires training for employees at Walmart’s Geneva store to prevent future harassment and to ensure that workers understand their right to be free from sexual harassment on the job, and also requires targeted one-on-one training for the supervisor who had been the Geneva store manager at the time. The decree further requires Walmart to provide periodic reports to the EEOC regarding any future allegations of sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment causes damage in any workplace, but it is especially pernicious when it affects multiple victims over several years,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “We are pleased that Walmart has agreed to take steps to make its workplace safer and more respectful, including by educating its management employees about their responsibility to prevent and eradicate sexual harassment.”

“The EEOC will always seek to eliminate workplace sexual harassment wherever it finds it,” said Judy Keenan, director of the New York District Office. “The EEOC is pleased that the parties were able to resolve this lawsuit at an early stage and that Walmart will compensate the victims and institute procedures to prevent future discrimination.”

The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The agency’s Buffalo Local Office conducted the investigation resulting in this lawsuit.

At Random: OSHA “Weekend Work” Inspections to Probe Safety at 10 Colorado Construction Sites

Surprise, unannounced inspections are part of federal safety inspectors’ arsenal in the Rocky Mountain state.

As work at construction project sites increases in Colorado’s Front Range, more workers may find themselves exposed to falls and trenching and excavation hazards. Over the last two years, at least six workers have suffered fatal falls, and nearly a dozen excavation collapses and trenching incidents have led to the deaths of three workers in Colorado.

To make these work sites safer, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has implemented a “Weekend Work” initiative in which federal workplace safety and health inspections will occur randomly on weekends in Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, El Paso, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Larimer and Weld counties. OSHA’s area offices in Denver and Englewood will continue these inspections into the fall of 2021.

“Our Weekend Work initiative will identify and address construction-related hazards at worksites in 10 different counties along the Front Range on days when worksites often go unchecked,” said OSHA Acting Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter in Denver. “This is a proactive effort to identify hazardous worksites and to ensure workers end their shifts safely.”

Learn more about OSHA’s Trenching and Excavation standardsRead about how to protect workers from fall hazards in construction.

Shook Up: Sonic Manager Routinely Harassed Teen Carhops, Management Silent, Says EEOC

Sonic is known for its shakes, but at this drive-through the female employees were shaken up by their mistreatment.

At least three teen female carhops were subjected to sex harassment by SDI of Mineola, LLC, doing business as Sonic Drive-In, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced Wednesday.

According to the EEOC’s suit, a Sonic co-manager subjected several young female employees to a hostile work environment. The offending co-manager made daily crude sexual comments and sexual propositions to female employees and subjected them to unwelcome physical touching. Even after the sexual harassment was reported to management, no responsive or remedial actions were taken. Instead, the offending harasser was given a promotion, the agency charged.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and color. The EEOC filed suit, Civil Action No. 6:21-CV-00226, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In this case, the EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief, including an order barring Sonic from engaging in discriminatory treatment in the future.

“Preying on young women is bad enough,” said Joel Clark, a senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “Here, even after the sexual harassment was reported to management, Sonic did nothing to protect these women. The EEOC is here to stand up for their rights.”

EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Eduardo Juarez said: “Managers have a responsibility to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment for all of the employees under their supervision, especially teen workers, who are particularly vulnerable to this kind of abuse.”   

The EEOC’s Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/ ) presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination, including curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities.

EEOC’s Beef With JBS Swift Ends With $5.5M Settlement in Bias Case Over Muslim Workers

On top of their ransomware problems, add a multi-million dollar relief commitment to the company’s financial woes.

JBS USA LLC, doing business as JBS Swift & Company, will pay up to $5.5 million and provide other relief to end a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging race, national origin, and religious discrimination at the company’s beef processing plant in Greeley, Colo., the EEOC announced Wednesday.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in 2010, charged that JBS discriminated against employees because they were Muslim, immigrants from Somalia, and Black. According to the EEOC, JBS denied religious accommodations to Muslim employees at its Greeley plant. Specifically, the EEOC asserted that JBS denied Muslim employees the ability to pray as required by their religion, and that Muslim employees were harassed when they tried to pray during scheduled breaks or even on bathroom breaks.

The EEOC further charged that during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2008, JBS shut off water fountains at the facility or tagged them to stop employees from using them, which prevented Muslim employees from getting a drink of water after fasting all day and from washing before prayers. JBS also denied Somali Muslim employees bathroom breaks and disciplined them more harshly than other employees, according to the EEOC’s allegations.

In addition, the EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that Black, Somali, and Muslim employees were harassed on the job because of their race, religion and national origin. The EEOC alleged that JBS managers and other employees threw meat or bones at Black and Somali employees and that JBS employees regularly called Somali employees offensive names because of their race, national origin, and religion. The EEOC further alleged that JBS tolerated offensive graffiti in restrooms at the Greeley facility, with racially harassing and obscene statements against Somalis, such as “Somalis are disgusting,” “F*** Somalians,” “F*** Muslims,” and “N*****.” 

The alleged discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination, including on the basis of race, national origin, or religion.

Under the terms of the consent decree settling the lawsuit, JBS will pay up to $5,500,000 to approximately 300 employees who are eligible participants under the decree’s terms.

In addition, the decree requires JBS to take a number of actions intended to correct and prevent further discrimination. JBS will make all former employees covered under the decree eligible for rehire. It will review, update, and post its anti-discrimination policies; maintain a 24-hour hotline for reporting discrimination; investigate employee complaints; support a diversity committee; and provide annual trainings to all employees on the laws prohibiting employment discrimination. JBS also must provide clean, quiet, and appropriate locations other than bathrooms for employees’ religious observances, including daily prayers, and must also allow employees to use locker rooms or other locations that do not pose a safety risk for observation of their religious practices.

“The EEOC is proud to obtain such significant relief for the hundreds of workers harmed by the unlawful employment practices alleged in this law­suit,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “This case serves as a reminder that systemic discrimination and harassment remain significant problems that we as a society must tackle. I am hopeful that the employer’s new policies, especially those pro­viding for swift handling of harassment complaints and ensuring appropriate times and places for employees to practice their faith, are a step in the right direction.”

Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, which has juris­diction over Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, said, “The discrimination alleged in this lawsuit was very serious and affected hundreds of employees over many years. Employers must consider and offer reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious beliefs and practices except where it would cause an undue hardship, and employers cannot allow harassment based on race, religion, or national origin.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al. v. JBS USA, LLC d/b/a JBS Swift & Company, Case No.10-cv-2103-PAB-KLM. It was pending before Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer, who will retain authority to enforce the terms of the consent decree.