Settlement With EEOC Should Spell End to Harassment of Black Employees at Ga. Store

The days of black employees having to put up with harassing behavior at this southern food store should be over.

G.N.T, Inc., doing business as GNT Foods, a grocery store located in East Point, Ga., will pay $60,000 and furnish other relief to settle a racial harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced Wednesday.

Corey Bussey, Justin Jones and Christopher Evans worked in the meat department at GNT Foods. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the three African American men endured the store owner’s daily use of racial slurs. The owner slapped Bussey and also prominently displayed racially offensive posters of monkeys in the workplace to humiliate the black employees. The harassing behavior continued despite numerous complaints by all three employees. Bussey, Evans and Jones each filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC and were subsequently fired by GNT Foods in retaliation for their complaints of harassment and discrimination charges, according to the lawsuit.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from firing, demoting or harassing employees because of race or because they complained to their employer about discrimination on the job. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 1:17-CV-3545-MHC-LTW) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement via its conciliation process.

In addition to the monetary damages to the three men, GNT Foods agrees to provide employment discrimination training to its employees and post its policies and an anti-discrimination notice. In addi­tion, the two-year consent decree settling the suit subjects GNT Foods to reporting and monitoring requirements.

“We are pleased with the resolution of this matter, and with GNT Foods’ agreement to train its employees regarding discrimination and retaliation,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Antonette Sewell. “Employers have a duty to protect their workforce from racially offensive conduct and to take imme­diate corrective action when necessary. The EEOC continues to take racial harassment and retaliation complaints very seriously.”

Darrell E. Graham, district director of the EEOC’s Atlanta office, said, “Racial harassment and retaliation in the workplace will not be tolerated. The EEOC will continue to protect workforces in our communities.”

OSHA Hands Fla. Home Builder $114K Fine for Neglecting Fall Hazard Protections at Two Sites

Preventable falls remain an occupational hazard for too many construction crew members.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Turnkey Construction Planners Inc. – based in Melbourne, Florida – for exposing employees to fall hazards at two worksites in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. The roofing contractor faces $114,294 in penalties.

OSHA initiated the inspections in September 2019 as part of the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction after inspectors observed employees working on roofs without fall protection. OSHA cited Turnkey Construction Planners for failing to ensure employees used a fall protection system while engaged in roofing activities and not requiring that portable ladders extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing. OSHA has cited the company six times in the past five years for similar hazards.

OSHA also cited Turnkey for safety violations in 2018.

“Employers have a duty to provide a workplace free of recognizable hazards. Roofing contractors can mitigate risks for their workers by ensuring all employees use approved fall protection systems,” said OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area Office Director Condell Eastmond. “Employers can contact their local OSHA office for assistance in making their worksites safe.”

OSHA’s Protecting Roofing Workers booklet details requirements for providing fall protection, and for appropriately positioning ladders.

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.

State Jailer Conciliates EEOC Charge Over Refusal to Hire Applicant Due to Hearing Loss

This state agency won’t have to worry any more about a disability discrimination charge hanging over its head. Provided it complies with the settlement agreement it entered into, of course.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) announced yesterday the successful conciliation of a charge filed with the agency under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC reached a voluntary agreement with the employer through the agency’s conciliation process following its investigative findings. CALPIA has not admitted to any wrongdoing or fault in violation of the statute. CALPIA has waived confidentiality regarding the disclosure of the terms.

Following an investigation by the Fresno EEOC office, the EEOC found that the state agency violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to hire the complainant for a permanent full-time position because of his disability or perceived disability. The EEOC further charged that retaliation for engaging in a protected activity was also a factor in the denial of hire.

In addition to the monetary relief of $30,000 to compensate the complainant, the two-year agreement also includes other forms of relief aimed at preventing future disability discrimination. CALPIA has agreed to provide training to all employees to ensure compliance with the ADA, post notices in areas visible to all employees, and consent to a two-year monitoring period.

“We commend CALPIA for its commitment to the ADA and for agreeing to comprehensive remedies,” said Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “We encourage all employers, both private and public, to follow suit and review their anti-discrimination policies and practices to ensure they are in compliance with federal law.”

Melissa Barrios, director of the EEOC’s Fresno Local Office, added, “Discrimination on the basis of disability in the employment process will not be tolerated and the EEOC will do everything in its power to eliminate such occurrences.

EEOC Taking Questions for Covid-19 Webinar

You can get your questions about COVID-19 and EEO laws answered by the EEOC, but you had better hurry.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will publicly post a prerecorded online webinar addressing questions arising under any of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws and the COVID-19 pandemic to its website www.eeoc.gov on Friday afternoon, March 27. No registration is necessary to view this prerecorded webinar.

The webinar will be devoted to answering questions submitted in advance about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the federal employment nondiscrimination laws. The prerecorded webinar will only address the ADA, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII, and GINA, as these are the laws the EEOC enforces. The EEOC is asking for questions to be submitted by email to COVID19.Questions@eeoc.gov by 9:00 p.m. (eastern time) on Wednesday March 25th for consideration in this webinar.

The webinar will supplement the COVID-19 publications already issued by the EEOC, including the “What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19” and “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act“. The EEOC last updated the COVID-19 “What You Should Know” on Thursday, March 19, 2020, and the Pandemic Preparedness document in light of COVID-19 on Saturday, March 21, 2020.

Protecting Whistleblowers in the Workplace

Protecting Whistleblowers in the Workplace

by Robin Paggi

Whistleblowers deserve respect and welcome–not scorn and retribution, says guest blogger Robin Paggi. Robin is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Because I spend a lot of my workweek conducting harassment prevention workshops, it’s ironic that I was accused of harassment. Although it was a meritless complaint, I reacted the way people are supposed to react in the workplace when they are accused of wrongdoing – I continued to do my job in a professional manner and didn’t try to get back at the complainant in any way. Because I had done nothing wrong, the issue quickly went away.

Was it easy for me to react that way? Not at all. When we feel threatened by things, such as people making complaints about us, our bodies are wired to go into self-defense mode – what is called the fight-or-flight response. According to verywellmind.com, “The term ‘fight-or-flight’ represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. They could either fight or flee. In either case, the physiological and psychological response to stress prepares the body to react to danger.” Someone complaining about us, especially when we’ve done nothing wrong, certainly triggers this response.

Despite its organic origins, we can’t seek revenge when people complain, even when it’s a bogus complaint. And, if you’re an employer, manager, supervisor, or anyone else in a position of power, you can’t punish employees (fire, demote, transfer, or take some other employment action) for complaining about you, anyone else, or anything in the workplace. That would be retaliating against a whistleblower and it’s very much against the law. 

I’m writing this article on September 27 and retaliating against a whistleblower is currently a hot topic because Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire spoke to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday about a federal employee who filed a complaint. 

During the meeting, Rep. Terri Sewell told Maguire that she’s concerned that “what has happened with this whistleblower” will have a “chilling effect” on future whistleblowers coming forward. What happened to this whistleblower is what happens to most people who file complaints – retaliation or the threat of it. After the news of the complaint became public, the whistleblower’s boss was recorded saying the whistleblower is “almost a spy,” the person who gave the whistleblower information is “close to a spy,” and suggested they be treated like spies were in the old days, which was, at least in the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, being executed by the federal government. That’s an extreme version of retaliation. 

The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees and applicants for employment who lawfully report certain wrongdoing from personnel action being taken against them. California whistleblowing laws protect all employees from being retaliated against for reporting that their employer or its agents broke the law or violated the public’s trust. The reporting can be done to a government official, the police, a supervisor within the organization, or “any public body” conducting a hearing or investigation.

Regardless of your opinion about the federal whistleblower situation, if you’re an employer, manager, supervisor, or anyone else in a position of power, you cannot punish employees for making complaints. It might be determined that the complaint is without merit; however, retaliating against an employee for making the complaint will still cost you (repayment of lost wages to terminated employees, damages for injuries suffered, jail time, etc.).   

Instead of retaliating, thank employees for coming forward when they make a complaint and fix whatever legitimate problem they bring to your attention – even when that problem is you.

For other columns by Robin Paggi, search “paggi” in the blog search box.

 

 

Depressing Episode: Fla. Company Ousted Worker Who Disclosed Disability, EEOC Alleges

Employees shouldn’t have to choose between disclosing their disabilities and keeping their jobs. Yet that’s what this Florida company effectively did, say federal officials.

Interconnect Cable Technology Corporation (ICTC), an electronics manufacturer in Brooksville, Fla., violated federal law by demoting and later discharging an employee after she was hospitalized for a mental illness, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

According to the EEOC’s suit, the employee had worked for ICTC for over 20 years, during which she was repeatedly promoted and held various positions. In June 2019, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. When she returned to work the following week, ICTC’s chief financial officer immediately stripped the employee of her job duties. Shortly thereafter, ICTC’s CFO demoted the employee to a new position and cut her pay. In October 2019, ICTC fired her.

Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division (EEOC v. Interconnect Cable Technology Corporation, Case No. 20-644) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settle­ment through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee. The suit also seeks injunctive relief to prevent and correct disability discrimination and training of ICTC’s managers and supervisors about federal equal employment opportunity laws.

“The Americans With Disabilities Act celebrates its 30th anniversary this year,” said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District. “Unfortunately, the number of disability discrimination charges filed annually with the EEOC rose last year. The EEOC continues, with this suit, to seek vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect people from this kind of intentional and harmful discrimination.”

The EEOC’s Tampa Field Office director, Evangeline Hawthorne, added, “An employee should feel comfortable disclosing his or her disability without fear that an employer will make employment decisions based on stereotypes about that disability. The EEOC remains steadfast in its commitment to take legal action against those who engage in such unlawful tactics.”

Quarter Million Dollar OSHA Penalty for Ill. Employer That Violated Safety Standards

Don’t let it be said that the federal government is letting up on workplace safety enforcement in this time of pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Monahan Filaments LLC – based in Arcola, Illinois – for violations of OSHA’s machine safety standards after an employee suffered severe injuries. The manufacturer of synthetic filaments for brushes and brooms faces $258, 271 in penalties. OSHA placed the company in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

OSHA received an employer-reported referral from Monahan Filaments after moving machine parts caused fractures and third degree burns to an employee’s hand on Sept. 20, 2019, during production line set-up.

Following the inspection, OSHA cited the company for two willful violations for failure to control hazardous energy sources, and inadequate machine guarding on rotating parts and ingoing nip points. OSHA also cited the company for a repeat violation for not training employees to perform energy control procedures during set-up operations.

“Injuries from machine hazards are preventable when machine guarding and lockout /tagout standards are followed,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA has resources available to help employers and workers understand requirements for properly safeguarding equipment.”

OSHA’s machine guarding and control of hazardous energy webpages provide information on what employers must do to limit worker exposures to machine hazards.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the 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.

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.