Archive for December, 2016

Employer Didn’t Act to Stop Ongoing Harassment of Black Employee, EEOC Charges in Title VII Suit

As 2016 leave us, persistent problems in the workplace don’t.

One of these is racial harassment.

The following is a case of harassment that went on for two years until the victim, fed up with management’s lack of response, up and quit.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a black employee, Paul Bowman, was subjected almost daily to a racially hostile work environment at Hiatt & Mason Enterprises, Inc., a structural steel erection services company in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Starting in March 2014,the EEOC alleges,  Bowman’s white foreman and some of his co-workers subjected him to racial harassment for almost two years. The alleged misconduct included daily or almost daily use of the “N-word” and other racial epithets, as well as racial jokes about blacks. On more than one occasion, Bowman was threatened physically by one of the co-workers who engaged in racist name calling.

The complaint further charged that the company’s equal employment opportunity officer witnessed at least one of the incidents of harassment and received complaints about some of the abuse, but took no action to stop it. Bowman left the company around March 2016.”Employers must take appropriate action to stop employees’ use of racial slurs in the workplace,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office.

Read more about the EEOC’s lawsuit filed on Dec. 21 here.

First Responder Diversity Study Released

Ways in which to increase the diversity among the nation’s first responders are the focus of a new report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The DOL yesterday released results from the First Responder Workforce Diversity study, conducted for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office by Coffey Consulting and their partners American Institutes for Research.

The research team visited five first responder departments and training sites to identify and document promising practices and strategies that promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the recruitment, training, hiring, and retention of individuals in first responder occupations.

The sites included two police departments (Atlanta Police Department and Dallas Police Department), one fire department (San Francisco Fire Department), and two third-party training providers (Bay Area Youth EMT program and Camp Fully Involved).

To create a culture of diversity, the report recommends these practices:

  • diverse leadership and role models;
  • diversity central to the mission and culture; and
  • demonstrating a commitment to diversity through volunteer instruction.

BAY EMT and CFI staff members work for the program on a volunteer basis, demonstrating their commitment to providing opportunities for candidates from underrepresented groups and female candidates, respectively.

To read the report, click here.


Suit Settled Against Hospital That Wouldn’t Accommodate Employees Objecting to Flu Shot

An employer can require as a condition of employment that employees get a flu shot. But like any other condition of employment, this one is subject to the duty of reasonable accommodation when an employee objects on religious grounds to the requirement.

That’s the upshot of an announcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it settled a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit it brought against Saint Vincent Health Center located in Erie, Pa.

According to the EEOC, in October 2013, the Health Center) implemented a mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement for its employees unless they were granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under the policy, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact during flu season in lieu of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine but were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC’s lawsuit.

From October 2013 to January 2014, EEOC alleged, the six employees identified in its complaint requested religious exemptions from the Health Center’s flu vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and the Health Center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, during this same period, the Health Center granted fourteen (14) vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons while denying all religion-based exemption requests.

The six employees will share in a $300,000 monetary award under the settlement.

The settlement also comes with a whole lot of stipulations:

(1) if the Health Center chooses to require employee influenza vaccination as a condition of employment, it must grant exemptions from that requirement to all employees with sincerely held religious beliefs who request exemption from the vaccination on religious grounds unless such exemption poses an undue hardship on the Health Center’s operations;

(2) it t must also notify employees of their right to request religious exemption and establish appropriate procedures for considering any such accommodation requests.

(3) when considering requests for religious accommodation, the Health Center must adhere to the definition of “religion” established by Title VII and controlling federal court decisions, a definition that forbids employers from rejecting accommodation requests based on their disagreement with an employee’s belief; their opinion that the belief is unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent in some way; or their conclusion that an employee’s belief is not an official tenet or endorsed teaching of any particular religion or denomination.

(4) the Health Center must provide training regarding Title VII reasonable accommodation to its key personnel and that it maintain reasonable accommodation policies and accommodation request procedures that reflect Title VII requirements.


N.D. Company Hit With EEOC Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Orientation Discrimination Against Man

A male employee in this prairie-state company put up with pervasive harassment directed at him because of his perceived sexual orientation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in a new lawsuit.

In this lawsuit under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the EEOC contends that Rocky Mountain Casing Company, which maintains a workforce in Williston, N.D., subjected a male employee to harassment because of his sex, male, and his sexual orientation.

In this case, EEOC contends that Rocky Mountain Casing Company harassed the employee because he did not conform to stereotypes regarding masculinity and because of the sex of the persons with whom he formed relationships,

To wit, his co-workers:

  • called the employee by offensive and homophobic slurs;
  • defaced company vehicles with sex-based remarks about him; and
  • left him pornographic magazines with titles like “Chicks With Dicks.”

His manager piled on. He made offensive jokes about gays to or around the employee; made him the butt of derogatory sex-based comments; gave him children’s toys and board games; and gave him a hat with a Spanish slang word for “homosexual” on it. The employee complained, EEOC said, but no prompt corrective action was taken.

Employers must realize that harassing someone because of his or her perceived sexual orientation violates the law just as does other types of harassment based on sex, or harassment based on race, or harassment based on religion,” said Julianne Bowman, director for EEOC’s Chicago District Office, which investigated the discrimination charge. “This kind of abuse is unacceptable and illegal

The company is the first employer in North Dakota to be hit with a sexual orientation lawsuit by the EEOC.

Read more here about the lawsuit.

Camp Operator Sued by EEOC for Alleged Violation of Pregnant Registrar’s Rights

The operator of a camp in Texas is in the hot seat with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over its treatment of a pregnant worker.

In a lawsuit filed last Thursday (the 22nd of December), the EEOC charged that Carolina Creek Christian Camp, Inc. (CCCC), which operates a facility 90 miles northeast of Houston that is used for youth summer camps and retreats, demoted a worker because of her pregnancy and related medical issues, and then fired her and sued her twice after she stood up for her rights.

Around February 2014, within a week of learning that Registrar Korrie Reed had developed gestational diabetes during her pregnancy, CCCC involuntarily removed her from her position “predominately because of” her “medical condition,” as stated in writing by CCCC, the lawsuit charges. CCCC reasoned that the demotion was triggered by “her need to medically take care of herself and the baby.”

When Ms. Reed returned from maternity leave, she was moved to a different department, and placed in another subordinate position. On several occasions, Ms. Reed expressed to the CCCC Executive Director that she viewed her demotion from Registrar to be illegal and discriminatory. After she expressed this sentiment again in early January 2015, CCCC on January 9, 2015, fired Reed.

After Reed filed an EEOC charge of discrimination in January 2015 and hired an attorney, CCCC sued Reed on February 3, 2015. After the proceedings in that lawsuit were paused, CCCC sued Reed again in Summer 2015. EEOC contends that the lawsuits filed against Reed, and her firing, unlawfully retaliated against Reed for exercising her rights protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex (including pregnancy), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.

As in this case, when a worker is pregnant or has a medical condition that the employer views as a disability, but the employee is qualified to continue performing the job, an employer’s unfounded fears and biases are not valid excuses to deny equal employment opportunities,” said EEOC’s Houston District Director Rayford O. Irvin.

$250K Awarded to Costco Female Employee Victimized by Repeated Customer Harassment

A federal jury socked it to Costco Wholesale Inc. this week for not intervening to prevent a customer from harassing a female associate at its Glenview, Illinois warehouse store.

The victim was awarded $250,000 by the jury, which rejected Costco’s arguments that the employee was unreasonably sensitive to harassment and that the harassment was not sufficiently sexual.

The alleged harassment, which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said lasted over a year, included unwelcome touching, unwelcome advances, and stalking. Although the employee reported the customer’s conduct to Costco management, and the customer himself repeatedly reported his ongoing contact with the employee to Costco, the store took no effective action to prevent the harassment. As a result, the employee was forced to obtain a restraining order against the customer.

Read more about the verdict here.

And here’s my writeup of the filing of the lawsuit in August.

OSHA Recovers $275K For Employee Who Blew Whistle on Safety Infractions at John Deere Plant

You could say that tractor manufacturer John Deere will pay dearly for its firing of a pipefitter allegedly for reporting unsafe working conditions.

Under a settlement announced yesterday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Deere & Co., which operates as John Deere, agreed to pay $204,315 in back wages and “front pay” and $70,685 in other damages to the pipefitter who reported safety violations at the company’s Moline, Illinois plant.

An investigation by OSHA found the pipefitter was dismissed on June 4, 2012, allegedly in retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions at the Moline facility to OSHA on three separate occasions. OSHA’s subsequent investigations cited hazards at the facility in April 2010, January 2012 and May 2012.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or the government under any of these laws. Employees who believe they are a victim of retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs.

Hog Wild: Hormel Foods To Pay $550K, Hire Women Denied Production Jobs at Neb. Plant

Female employees at a Hormel Food processing plant in Fremont, Nebraska from now on will get a fair shake at getting production jobs.

Thirty seven women will be hired with retroactive seniority and 403 female job applicants denied entry-level production jobs at the company’s Fremont hog-processing facility will share in $550,000 of back pay, under terms of a settlement announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The global food manufacturer’s action resolves U.S. Department of Labor findings that the company – a large federal contractor – discriminated in hiring against women in violation of Executive Order 11246.

The company provides food supplies to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Defense.

The alleged violations occurred from February 2008 to February 2009.

Companies Settle EEOC Charge Alleging They Fired Harassment Victim Who Then Complained

For $90,000, two California-based companies are putting behind them a charge that they allowed harassment of a female employee by her supervisor and then fired her in retaliation for her complaint.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced settlement of this charge against Caruthers, Calif.-based companies South County Support Services and Southwest Transportation Agency today.

In the charge, the EEOC alleged that an executive administrative assistant was sexually harassed by her supervisor. The ongoing conduct led the employee to seek and receive a restraining order against the supervisor.

The charge further asserted that she was discharged within days of notifying the company of the restraining order. EEOC investigated the allegations and found reasonable cause to believe that South County Support Services was liable for harassment and retaliated against the employee when she provided a copy of the restraining order, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Cheesecake Factory Sued by EEOC Under ADA Over Denial of Accommodation to Deaf Employee

Now it is the Cheesecake Factory’s turn to face the legal music of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit.

In a suit filed today, the agency alleges that the restaurant giant violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying a deaf employee’s request for  orientation training with either closed captioned video or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.

Although his employer was aware that Oleg Ivanov was deaf prior to his hire as a part-time dishwasher, the company failed to respond to his requests for accommodation and unilaterally decided to rely on passing back and forth written notes to communicate with him at his June 2014 interview, post-hire orientation and significant meetings, the EEOC charged

The EEOC found that Ivanov was provided inadequate training (also without accommodation for being deaf) on the company’s online scheduling system and timekeeping process, leaving him at a disadvantage in tracking his constantly changing work hours.

EEOC charges that in September 2014, The Cheesecake Factory fired Ivanov alleging attendance issues–after he reminded them that he was deaf and had not been provided with an ASL interpreter for his orientation training.

“Under the ADA, employers must interact with the employee who has a disability to find an accommodation that works for both of them,” said Nancy Sienko, Director of EEOC’s Seattle Field Office. “Mr. Ivanov clearly communicated that he needed an accommodation to ensure that he could succeed at the job he was hired to do, but instead The Cheesecake Factory chose to fire him.”

Learn more about the case here.