Posts Tagged ‘EEOC’

EEOC, DOJ Join Forces on Harassment in State, Local Governments in Memo of Understanding

The EEOC and U.S. Department of Justice will work in tandem to eradicate workplace harassment in state and local government.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division on December 21 signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to prevent and address workplace harassment in state and local government. The EEOC and the Justice Department seek to enhance the effectiveness of the nation’s equal employment opportunity enforcement in the state and local government sector to ensure the efficient use of resources and a consistent enforcement strategy. The EEOC has ramped up its role as enforcer, educator, and leader on harassment in the workplace, and this MOU enhances those efforts.

EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband signed the MOU on December 21 in Washington, D.C.

“I am pleased to be able to renew our work with the Department of Justice in this regard,” said Acting Chair Lipnic. “Harassment at work can have a devastating impact on people. The employees in the public sector deserve as much of our attention on this issue as those in the private sector.” Lipnic added, “I especially want to thank EEOC Commissioner Charlotte Burrows for her attention to issues in this sector. I look forward to using her years of experience at the Department of Justice to help us move forward with our important work.”

“All Americans are entitled to work with dignity in a place that is free of unlawful and discriminatory harassment,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Last February, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched an initiative to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. We are also diligently working to prosecute cases of racial and other forms of illegal discrimination. Through our strong partnership with the EEOC, we will continue to identify harassment claims, prosecute lawbreakers, seek relief for victims, fight to eliminate harassment from the workplace.”

EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows stated, “Anyone who suffers workplace harassment deserves prompt relief. I commend Acting Chair Lipnic and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband for their leadership in taking this important step to enhance the federal response in harassment investigations.”

The EEOC and the Department of Justice share enforcement authority for employment discrimination claims involving state and local government employers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC receives, investigates, and mediates charges of discrimination against such public employers. Where the EEOC finds reasonable cause to believe an unlawful employment practice has occurred, the agency works with the employer to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution to the charge. If conciliation of a charge fails, the EEOC refers the charge and its investigative file to the Justice Department, which has sole authority within the federal government to file a lawsuit against state and local governments under Title VII.

The agencies’ shared concern over the need for immediate action to prevent further harm in some harassment cases, including sexual harassment, led the EEOC and the Justice Department to amend the MOU. It now includes provisions for the expedited coordination of any charge involving state or local government employers where the EEOC’s preliminary investigation of a charge reveals that immediate action is needed to prevent further harm. In those cases, the EEOC will provide the Justice Department with the information necessary to obtain an injunction, temporary or preliminary relief, in federal court for the affected employees, pending the final outcome of the charge.

The MOU and information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division’s website or the EEOC’s website.

EEOC Details 2018 Sexual Harassment Activity

The year that just ended was another busy one on the sexual harassment front.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) October 2 announced preliminary FY 2018 sexual harassment data–highlighting its significant work this past fiscal year to address the pervasive problem of workplace harassment. What You Should Know: EEOC Leads the Way in Preventing Workplace Harassment recognizes key milestones of the agency to actively enforce the law, to educate and train workers and employers, and to share its expertise on new solutions to reduce harassing conduct in the workplace.

Combatting all forms of workplace harassment – whether based on sex, race, color, disability, age, national origin, or religion — remains a top priority of the EEOC. “I am so proud of the EEOC staff who stepped up to the heightened demand of the #MeToo movement to make clear that workplace harassment is not only unlawful, it is simply not acceptable,” said Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “As the agency with expertise, as the enforcer of the law, and as an educator, the EEOC has continued to lead the way to achieve the goal of reducing the level of harassment and to promote harassment-free workplaces.”

Based on preliminary data, in FY 2018:

  • The EEOC filed 66 harassment lawsuits, including 41 that included allegations of sexual harassment. That reflects more than a 50 percent increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over fiscal year 2017.
  • In addition, charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017.
  • Overall, the EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through litigation and administrative enforcement in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.

The EEOC’s innovative training program, “Respectful Workplaces,” which teaches skills for employees and supervisors to promote and contribute to respect in the workplace, was in high demand since it was launched in October 2017. Over 9,000 employees and supervisors in the private, public and federal sector work forces participated in Respectful Workplaces trainings this past fiscal year. An additional 13,000 employees participated in EEOC’s anti-harassment compliance trainings.

“We have been traveling the country, spreading the word about what the EEOC is doing and the resources we have to offer,” said Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum, Co-Chair of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. “We are at a transformative moment in our history and the EEOC will be part of making that history.” Moving forward, the EEOC recognizes that more can and should be done. Acting Chair Lipnic noted further, “the EEOC will continue to be there, striving to make our workplaces productive places where we can all go, do our jobs, and be free from harassment.”

Pregnant Worker Denied Light Duty, EEOC Says

Another employer is crossing legal swords with the federal government for allegedly not extending light-duty assignment to pregnant workers.

Nationwide geriatric care giant Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and its affiliate, South Hill Operations, LLC, doing business as “Life Care Center of South Hill,” violated federal law when it denied light duty to a pregnant employee and then in effect fired her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed September 25.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Nair Parsons, who worked for Life Care Centers., informed her supervisors of her pregnancy in June 2016, requested light duty for the last part of her pregnancy in the form of a lifting restriction, and also supplied a doctor’s note in support of her request. Parsons’ supervisors denied her light duty request, indicated that Life Care only provides light in Puyallup, Wash duty to those employees injured on the job, and then placed her on involuntary, unpaid leave. Life Care supervisors told Parsons to reapply for a CNA job once she was ready to return to unrestricted duty, which amounted to firing her, the EEOC said.

The EEOC’s suit also claimed that Life Care had a longstanding policy or practice going back to September 2015 of not providing light duty to pregnant employees even though it provided light duty to similarly abled non-pregnant employees that affected a class of similarly situated employees.

Refusing to provide light duty to a pregnant employee when similarly abled non-pregnant employees are able to get light duty violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and South Hill Operations LLC d/b/a Life Care Center of South Hill in Puyallup, CIV# 2:18-cv-01411.) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, and seeks monetary damages on behalf of Parsons, Cook and a class of similarly aggrieved females in Washington, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of anti-discrimination notices at the worksite, and other injunctive relief.

“Federal law requires an employer to provide light duty to pregnant employees if the employer provides light duty to employees who have comparable work restrictions who happen not to be pregnant,” said Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office. “Despite the multiple ways that Life Care could have helped Ms. Parsons with her lifting restrictions, they chose to send her home instead – which is unlawful as well as cruel and counterproductive.”

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley added, “Employers cannot ignore a pregnant employee’s light duty request when they are receptive to those of non-pregnant employees. Accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a key component of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.”

According to company information, Life Care Centers is a nationwide network of over 236 geriatric health care service providers with operations in over 35 states, and had over $10.3 million in net sales in 2015, the year in which Parsons last worked for the co-defendants in Puyallup.

Individuals with information about any pregnant employee who was denied light duty by Life Care Centers since September 2015, or was treated similarly to Parsons are encouraged to contact the EEOC at: LifeCarePDA@eeoc.gov .

Cargo Handler Trips Over Unpaid Leave Forced on Pregnant Driver at Detroit Metropolitan Airport

You can’t deny light-duty assignment to a pregnant worker when your policy is to give such assignments to other employees temporary restricted in what work they can do.

Simplicity Ground Services, P.C., an airline-ramp and cargo-handling company in Detroit, violated federal law by forcing an employee onto unpaid leave because of her pregnancy, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Raylynn Bishop was employed as a tow team driver for Simplicity Ground Services, a company responsible for transferring baggage on and off commercial flights at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport. As a tow team driver, her job primarily consisted of driving a vehicle, and her job description contained no lifting requirement. The EEOC alleged that upon learning that Bishop was pregnant and had a 20-pound lifting restriction, Simplicity informed her she must go on unpaid leave and attempted to make her sign an amended job description which added a 70-pound lifting requirement. Simplicity also forced other pregnant employees to take unpaid leave because they were pregnant and refused to accommodate their pregnancy-related lifting restrictions with light-duty work. Non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions, however, were routinely granted light duty.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 2:18-cv-10989 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The federal agency seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Bishop and the other pregnant employees, as well as injunctive relief designed to end the discriminatory practice for the future.

“The EEOC’s investigation showed that pregnant employees were repeatedly treated as ineligible for light-duty assignments, a benefit that was otherwise a possible solution for temporary work restrictions,” said Kenneth Bird, regional attorney for the Indianapolis District Office. “This case presents an opportunity to remind employers that they cannot exclude pregnant workers from a benefit available to others with similar work limitations, unless there is a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for doing so.”

The EEOC’s Detroit Field Office is part of the Indianapolis District Office, which oversees Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and parts of Ohi

Veteran Harassed Over His PTSD to Get $75K in Settlement of EEOC ADA Suit Against Employer

Any employer out there who employs a military veteran beware that the federal government won’t tolerate mistreatment of him and her because they have service-related trauma.

Mine Rite Technologies, LLC, a Buffalo, Wyo.-based manufacturing company, will pay $75,000 and provide other significant relief to settle a disability discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, employee Jason Kaufman, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was harassed by his supervisor because of his condition. The EEOC said the supervisor referred to Kaufman as a “psycho” to his coworkers. The supervisor also made comments about “Psycho Thursday,” because that was the day of the week when the employee attended therapy sessions to treat his PTSD. The EEOC further charged that when the harassment became intolerable, Kaufman was forced to quit to avoid further abuse.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination and harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, Case No. 2:17-cv-00063-SWS, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The consent decree announced today resolves the EEOC’s lawsuit and the underlying discrimination charge filed with the EEOC. In addition to monetary relief, the three-year decree includes an injunction against future discrimination based on disability and a requirement that Mine Rite create and implement equal employment opportunity policies. The decree also requires Mine Rite to train its employees and to provide Kaufman with a letter of apology and a letter of recommendation.

“A veteran should never be ridiculed because of PTSD,” said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “This man gave his all for this country, came back suffering, and was brave enough to get help from the Veterans Administration for his condition. Our veterans deserve better than this. Furthermore, mental health is a significant problem in this country, and such mistreatment only makes things worse.”

Elizabeth Cadle, the EEOC’s Phoenix District director, added, “Employers must ensure that all kinds of workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment. The resolution of this lawsuit should serve as a reminder to employers that unlawful harassment because of a mental health condition will not be tolerated. We are pleased that the company’s owner worked cooperatively with us to resolve this case. We are also gratified that Mine Rite will be creating and implementing policies that will help its employees understand their rights under the ADA.”

The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque).

EEOC Strategic Plan Set for 2018-2022

What are the EEOC’s priority enforcement areas for the next five years? You can now see them for yourselves.

The EEOC announced Feb. 12 that it has approved its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2018-2022. The Strategic Plan serves as a framework for the Commission in achieving its mission to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination and advance equal opportunity for all in the workplace. Implementation of the new Strategic Plan will begin in February 2018.

“Through the plan announced today, the EEOC is taking a significant step toward realizing our vision of respectful and inclusive workplaces with equal opportunity for all,” said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “I am pleased with the hard work of staff across the agency who provided assistance throughout the development of the plan, and I look forward to its successful implementation. I especially want to thank our Chief Operating Officer, Cynthia Pierre, for leading the work group in developing our plan. I also want to thank the external organizations who provided helpful comments to the agency during the public comment period. I said one year ago that the agency would be committed to increased transparency in development of our policies and procedures, and the process for the Strategic Plan contributed to that goal.”

The Commission voted unanimously to approve the FY 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. The EEOC is the leading federal law enforcement agency dedicated to preventing and remedying employment anti-discrimination laws and advancing equal opportunity for all in the work­place since 1965. The plan serves as a framework for the Commission in achieving its mission through the strategic application of the EEOC’s law enforcement authorities, preventing employment discrim­ination and promoting inclu­sive workplaces through education and outreach, and organizational excel­lence. These three strategic objectives have associated performance measures detailing outcomes to be achieved during the four-year period the plan is in effect. The outcomes are designed to demonstrate the Commis­sion’s progress in carrying out its mission in a time of shrinking resources and an increased demand for its services.

The process for developing this plan has been highly inclusive and collaborative. The plan was created by working groups comprised of staff from the EEOC’s headquarters and field offices, with a broad range of internal and external expertise and understanding of the programs and activities con­ducted within the agency. The Commission also solicited public and stakeholder comments in the development of the plan. Every four fiscal years, Congress requires executive departments, government corporations and independent agencies to develop and post a strategic plan on their public websites. These plans direct the agency’s work and lay the foundation for the development of more detailed annual plans, budgets and related program performance information in the future.

Employer to Tone Down Severance Agreements

An employer in Colorado has agreed to revise severance agreements so they don’t impede employees’ ability to seek redress for employment discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and The Coleman Company, Inc. have reached a voluntary conciliation agreement to resolve allegations of disability discrimination raised by a former employee, the federal agency said Feb. 6.

Following an investigation, the EEOC found that it was probable that Coleman violated Section 503 of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 704 and 706 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of the 1964, by conditioning employees’ receipt of severance pay on an overly broad severance agreement that interfered with employees’ rights to file charges and communicate with the EEOC, and which precluded employees from accepting any relief obtained by the EEOC, should the agency take further action.

Without admitting liability, Coleman agreed to enter into a conciliation agreement with the EEOC. As part of that agreement, the company agreed to hire an outside equal employment opportunity consultant to review its separation agreements and make sure they comply with law. Coleman also agreed to revise past agreements and notify signatories who signed a prior version between 2013 and 2015 that they could file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and the company will not raise the time limits on charge filing as a defense. The EEOC will monitor compliance with this agreement.

“We applaud the Coleman Company for proactively tackling this issue once it was brought to its attention,” said EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “Increasingly, we are seeing employers, whether intentionally or not, including overbroad language in their separation agreements that interferes with signatories’ rights to participate in EEOC processes or that impedes the EEOC’s ability to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws as it deems necessary.”

Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, “We hope other employers learn from Coleman’s model behavior and pay closer attention to their separation agreements. No matter what the intent, whether intentionally misleading or inadvertent, employers cannot insist on agreement provisions that are void against public policy.”

Preserving access to the legal system, including addressing overbroad separation agreements, is one of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan priorities. For more information about the EEOC’s priorities for 2017 – 2021, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/sep-2017.cfm.

Courts generally deem contract provisions that preclude employees from filing charges with the EEOC or cooperating with the EEOC during an investigation to be void as against public policy. See EEOC v. Astra USA, 94 F.3d 738, 744 (1st Cir. 1996) and EEOC v. Cosmair, Inc., L’Oreal Hair Care Div., 821 F.2d 1085, 1090 (5th Cir. 1987). Recently, the district court of Colorado, in the case EEOC v. Montrose Memorial Hospital, Civ. No. 16-cv-02277 (D. Colo., April 12, 2017), voided settlement agreement provisions that limited

an employee’s right to participate in the EEOC’s lawsuit and accept a share of any financial or other relief obtained by the EEOC.

The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque).