Posts Tagged ‘sexual harassment’

#MeToo Spurs EEOC to Revisit Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission latched onto the MeToo movement, reconvening its expert panel to discuss more ways to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The U.S. ‘s (EEOC) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace reconvened June 11 to hear from expert witnesses on “Trans­forming #MeToo Into Harassment-Free Workplaces” at a meeting open to the public.

“Our co-chairs’ report on harassment laid the groundwork for the launch of a renewed effort to prevent harassment,” stated Acting EEOC Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “Since last fall, the public’s demand for action has coalesced with this effort. The EEOC will continue to lead the fight against workplace harassment and to promote solutions to prevent it.”

EEOC Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum added, “Our challenge is to use this #MeToo moment well. We have a road map given the work we have done at the EEOC. We have the attention and commitment of the range of different actors in society that we need. Together, we can channel that energy to create significant and sustainable change.”

Legal scholars and attorneys who represent workers and employers highlighted a range of issues raised in the wake of high-profile allegations of sexual harassment since October 2017 and the rise in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. These experts discussed non-disclosure and arbitration agreements and training mandates, and shared proposals for legal reform from state legislatures and industry groups, who have taken up action to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Elizabeth Tippett, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, provided an overview of a range of legal issues and noted the importance of also addressing other forms and aspects of harass­ment. “It would be a mistake for employers and state legislators to limit their response exclusively to sexual harassment,” Tippett said. “In doing so, they risk laying a foundation for the next crisis, whether it involves other forms of harassment, or discrimination and retaliation.”

Debra Katz, a partner with Katz, Marshall and Banks, said, “#MeToo movement forces society to see the gaps between the promises of our politicians and lawmakers and the realities of individuals, face to face in the workplace.” Katz outlined how Title VII and state laws have been thwarted for too long by evasions that the legal system itself has sanctioned. “#MeToo illustrates the immense cost of that failure,” Katz noted.

Kathleen McKenna, a partner at Proskauer Rose, who represents employers, testified that arbitration provides a neutral and confidential process to resolve individual harassment complaints for conduct that employers “invariably prohibit and work to guard against.” McKenna also explained that proposals to prohibit non-disclosure agreements are likely to be counterproductive, as that could lead to an increase in litigation rather than private resolution.

Suzanne Hultin with the National Conference of State Legislatures testified that over “125 pieces of legislation have been introduced this year in 32 states.” Hultin noted that many states are looking to go beyond federal regulations to prevent workplace sexual harassment. She projected that proposals to address and prevent harassment would continue to be a priority for state legislatures this year and next.

A second panel presented innovative strategies that employers, unions, and others have developed to promote workplaces free of harassing conduct.

Jill Geisler, a fellow with the Newseum’s Freedom Forum Institute, described the Power Shift Project, a solutions-based effort about what newsrooms and media organizations are doing to deal with emerging cases of sexual misconduct, and what systemic changes are needed to end harassment and promote opportunity for all. While discussing the Power Shift Summit, the kick-off event for the project, Geisler described “a sense of new urgency and serious commitment among participants to fix these problems and create meaningful, sustainable change.”

Kasey Nalls, a member of the union UNITEHERE, described the “Hands Off Pants On” campaign that was spearheaded by UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor two years before the #MeToo movement exploded last fall. The initiative helps protect hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault by guests and an ordinance adopting it was unanimously passed by the Chicago City Council in October 2017. “Since the anti-sexual harassment policy went in to effect in January 2018, we’ve observed a chipping away at culture that permeates the hospitality industry that the “‘guest is always right,'” said Nalls.

Erin Wade and her staff at a restaurant called Homeroom developed a simple color-coded system for wait staff to use to signal if they confront harassing conduct from a customer, which then triggers a specific, mandated action by the manager to handle the situation. Wade emphasized that “We need to listen to the suggestions of women for how to solve the problems plaguing them, and put them in the position to change their own worlds.” She reported the success of this system as customer harassment is no longer a significant problem and the system has created a safe workplace for staff.

Jess Ladd, founder and CEO of Callisto, testified about her non-profit’s online documentation and reporting platforms in which the first report of a harassing incident creates a “matching escrow” that allows victims of sexual harassment to hold their identities in escrow until another victim of the same harasser comes forward. The second report triggers both victims being put in touch with the same Callisto legal advocate. “Callisto Expansion is designed to help victims understand the full range of their options, from HR to police to the press to the EEOC to confronting their perpetrator. We help victims understand which of these options they can pursue, given their case and the case of linked victims,” Ladd testified.

Lisa Gelobter, CEO and co-founder of tEQuitable, has created an independent, confidential platform to address issues of bias, discrimination and harassment in the workplace. She said that tEQuitable has built a third-party, tech-enabled Ombuds program, which “is the only platform imple­menting solutions to proactively stop harassment, not just reactively catch harassers after the fact.”

The Select Task Force, co-chaired in 2015 and 2016 by EEOC Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum and Commissioner and now-Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic, consisted of representatives of academia and social science; legal practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense sides; employer and employee advocacy groups; and organized labor. Co-Chairs Feldblum and Lipnic released a report based on the work of the task force on June 20, 2016. The report includes recommendations regarding leadership, accountability, policies and procedures, training, and developing a sense of collective responsibility.

As a result of the co-chairs’ report, the EEOC developed an innovative training program called Respectful Workplaces that has been provided in over 200 training sessions to over 5,200 employees and supervisors in 18 states. Since June 2016, when the report was released, the EEOC has also con­ducted about 2,700 outreach events related to harassment, reaching approximately 300,000 individuals.

The Task Force heard from the following witnesses during the meeting:

  • Elizabeth Tippett, University of Oregon School of Law
  • Debra Katz, Katz, Marshall & Banks
  • Kathleen McKenna, Proskauer Rose
  • Suzanne Hultin, National Conference of State Legislatures
  • Jill Geisler, Power Shift Project, Freedom Forum Institute
  • Kasey Nalls, UNITEHERE
  • Erin Wade, Homeroom Mac & Cheese
  • Jess Ladd, Callisto
  • Lisa Gelobter, tEQuitable

The written statements of the witnesses are available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/6-11-18.cfm

Here is a previous blog entry on the work of the task force.

And another one.

 

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Va. Mexican Cantina Settles Harassment Suit

Staff at this Virginia restaurant should be, more comfortable at work knowing that their bosses are not committed to protecting their workers from harassment.

A Bluefield, Va., Mexican restaurant will pay $25,000 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced June 7.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Alexus Dudeck worked as a hostess at La Fiesta Fresh Mexican Grill and Cantina. In 2015, Dudeck, then 18 years old, was subjected to unwelcome sexual comments and touching by a significantly older male manager. The suit alleged that the manager had previously engaged in the same or similar sexual conduct with at least one other female employee of the company. At the time the alleged sexual harassment occurred, La Fiesta did not have a sexual harassment policy or employee complaint procedures in effect. After Dudeck complained about the sexual harassment, La Fiesta reduced her work hours, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who oppose the harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Price Ventures, LLC d/b/a La Fiesta Fresh Mexican Grill and Cantina, Civil Action No. 1:17cv00041) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.

Under the consent decree resolving this case, La Fiesta has also agreed to implement new policies, conduct training for employees and management, post an anti-discrimination notice at the workplace, and report compliance to the EEOC for a three-year period.

“Protecting vulnerable workers is a top priority for the EEOC,” said Kara Gibbon Haden, acting regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “We hope that this case sends a clear message that the EEOC will hold accountable employers who fail to protect their employees from workplace harassment.”

Bad Wheels: EEOC Recovers $59K For Female Truck Driver Who Quit Over Ongoing Harassment

This company’s nonchalance toward the harassment of a female employee by her co-workers ended up costing it money.

A North Dakota civil construction company operating in Minot, N.D., will pay $59,000 to settle a sexual harassment and constructive discharge lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday. The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that Keller Paving and Landscaping, Inc., violated federal law when it subjected a female employee to a hostile work environment based on her sex and to work conditions that were so intolerable she was forced to resign.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Jennifer Gerard worked for Keller from June to October 2013 as a truck driver. During Gerard’s employment, she was subjected to sexual harassment by several male coworkers. The harassment included the coworkers telling her she did not belong at the worksite but should be at home in the kitchen taking care of her children. One male coworker asked her to perform oral sex on him, the EEOC said. On one occasion, a male coworker touched her shoulder and her leg. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Gerard complained to the company’s owners and site manager, but the harassment continued. The work conditions were so intolerable that Gerard was finally forced to quit her job.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Keller Paving and Landscaping, Inc.; Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-00092 DLH/CSM) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hoveland signed the order entering the consent decree on June 4, 2018. The decree provides for $59,000 in monetary relief to Gerard. It also requires Keller to revise its policies in its employee handbook to outline a complaint procedure for complaining about sexual harassment.

The decree also requires the company to train its management personnel on Title VII, including its prohibitions against sexual harassment. Further, the decree requires Keller to train its non-management employees on their rights under Title VII, including their right to file discrimination charges with the EEOC. Finally, the company must report complaints of sexual harassment to the EEOC during the decree’s two-year term.

“Too many women in non-traditional jobs are forced to endure this sort of abuse simply because of their gender,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “We are pleased with this settlement, which will monitor the company’s practices on sexual harassment, and the EEOC will continue to combat this kind of misconduct anywhere and everywhere we find it.”

Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “Maddeningly, women continue to face sexual harassment at their jobs, and employers must recognize the importance of acting promptly to address complaints about this inexcusable behavior. The EEOC remains committed to eliminating harassment and discrimination from the American workplace.”

The EEOC was represented in the case by Senior Trial Attorney Tina Burnside in the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office.

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

Uber Ditches Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Complaints By Its Employees

Employees of Uber won’t any longer be compelled to take their sexual harassment complaints to arbitration, the ridesharing company announced.

The move appears to be in response to the #MeToo Movement of shining a light on sexual misconduct, and follows a similar move by Microsoft to allow employees to sue the company for sexual harassment, rather than handle the matter behind closed doors.

Uber employees complaining of gender and racial discrimination will still have to submit to arbitration.

There’s a bill pending in California to bar companies from requiring workers to settle complaints in arbitration.

Hawaii 5 Uh-Oh: Island Tour Co. in $570K Settlement of Male-on Male Harassment Case

The CBS show Hawaii 5-0 chronicles the derring-do of this band of crime fighters. But to stop alleged male-on-male harassment at Hawaii tour companies, the intervention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was needed.

Three related Hawaii tour companies–Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours, Inc., Hawaii Tours and Transportation Inc. and Big Kahuna Luau, Inc.–will pay $570,000 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment suit filed against the companies by the EEOC, the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC filed suit against the three companies in 2017, charging that the male president of Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours engaged in a pattern of sexually harassing male employees, many of whom were subsequently forced to quit as a result of the egregious harassment or were retaliated against for reporting the harassment, thereby violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours, Inc. et al, Case No: 1:17-cv-00067-DKW-KSC).

As part of the settlement announced today, the parties entered into a three-year consent decree providing $570,000 in damages to a class of male employees. The decree requires that the alleged harasser not have further involvement in the operations and divested of control of the companies. The companies will designate an external equal employment opportunity (EEO) consultant to ensure the companies’ compliance with Title VII and anti-retaliation policies and procedures.

The decree also requires an independent complaint process and impartial investigations, together with a centralized tracking system for harassment and retaliation complaints and provisions holding supervisors, managers and officers of the companies accountable for harassment and retaliation. Annual training on sexual harassment and retaliation will be provided, especially for the president and other supervisors and managers, to educate them on their rights and responsibilities on sexual harassment and retaliation with the goal of preventing and deterring any discriminatory practices in the future.

“This settlement sends an unequivocal message that accountability is required regardless of who the alleged harasser is and no one is above the law under Title VII,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Hawai’i in its jurisdiction, “The EEOC will continue to relentlessly enforce laws against any sexual harassment in workplaces.”

Glory Gervacio Saure, director of the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office, added, “Unfortunately, our society still stigmatizes the victims, not the perpetrators, of sexual harassment. Especially in light of the #MeToo movement, it is critical for victims to speak up, despite the stigma, so that we can effectively address sexual harassment in the workplace.”

According to the company’s website, http://www.discoverhiddenhawaiitours.com, Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours provides guided tours of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai.

Individuals who may have experienced sexual harassment or have information pertaining to sexual harassment in connection with employment at Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours should contact the EEOC at 808-541-3133 for more information.

Here’s the Beef: Burger King Franchise Dishes Out $55K to Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Sexual harassment in the fast-food industry is a problem. Now at least it should be less of a problem at this particular Illinois burger franchise.

Burger King franchisee Heartland Food LLC, of Downers Grove, Ill., will pay $55,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Heartland Food violated federal law by subjecting a female employee to sexual harassment by a male manager at a Burger King restaurant in Palatine, Ill. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of sex. The EEOC filed its lawsuit on April 10 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (Civil Action No. 18 C 2534) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Under the consent decree settling the suit, entered by Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, Heartland Food will pay $55,000 and furnish other non-monetary relief.

“We are gratified that vigorous enforcement on the Commission’s part has led to appropriate corrective action and compensation for the victim,” said Julianne Bowman, EEOC ‘s district director in Chicago.

EEOC Regional Attorney Gregory Gochanour noted that the settlement was negotiated before the parties engaged in extended litigation or pretrial discovery.

Gochanour said, “We appreciate Heartland Food’s determination to work with the EEOC to resolve this case quickly by providing appropriate relief.”

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

Mopping Up: EEOC Settles Title VII Lawsuit Against Goodwill Industries, Affiliate for $850K

This case is an object lesson in not allowing sexual harassment and retaliation to take root in the workplace.

Goodwill Industries of the East Bay Area and its affiliate, Calidad Industries Inc., will pay $850,000 to eight former and current employees to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, six female janitors assigned to work the night shift at the Oakland Federal Building faced routine sexual harassment by their direct supervisor. The claimants included young women with developmental disabilities who were relatively new to the workforce, and were employed by Goodwill/Calidad’s janitorial operations under a federal government contract. The EEOC also charges that two managers were unfairly criticized and disciplined in retaliation for supporting the women’s sexual harassment claims, and one manager was compelled to resign.

“I was only 19 years old when I worked at Calidad — it was my first job, and I enjoyed being able to earn my own money,” said former employee Crystal Edwards. “But after my boss put his arms around me, I did not feel safe at work. My complaints were ignored. I am so glad the EEOC filed this lawsuit to stop the harassment and to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Former employee Phyllis Sloan said, “I reported the harassment as soon as it started, but nothing changed. So I went to the EEOC, and they were able to help me. I just wanted justice, so that other disabled workers know that they don’t have to put up with harassment from their bosses.”

Former manager Lisa Short added, “Within weeks of my start date, my employees trusted me enough to describe the harassment they faced on the nightshift. I knew my job could be on the line, but I needed to make sure my workers were safe.”

Concerned when higher management failed to take effective action, Short sought help from the Federal Protective Service and ultimately assisted the women in filing discrimination complaints with the EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from subjecting their employees to sexual harassment and specifically protects employees from retaliation for reporting or otherwise supporting claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay, Inc. and Calidad Industries, Inc., Civil Action No. 4:16-CV-07093) after an investigation conducted by EEOC investigator Christopher Green and attempting through its conciliation process to reach a settlement out of court.

According to the consent decree signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, Goodwill/Calidad will pay $850,000 to the claimants. The employers will also revise their EEO policies and complaint and investigation procedures; institute supervisor accountability policies concerning discrimination issues; conduct comprehensive training of their workforce; and hire a consultant to monitor any responses to future complaints. The companies are also required to provide reports to the EEOC regarding adherence to the decree’s terms.

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney Roberta Steele said, “The EEOC vigorously defends people like Lisa Short, the courageous supervisor who spoke out on behalf of her employees, as well as the individuals who are harassed. Whether you are a target or a bystander, if you see harassment in the workplace, please take action now and call on the EEOC as a resource to end workplace abuse. And if you’re an employer, know that EEOC offers technical assistance programs to prevent and remedy harassment.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director William R. Tamayo added, “The #MeToo movement illustrates that sexual harassment impacts people across industries, from white collar to blue collar work, across class, race, age, gender and abilities. In this case, there were many factors that contributed to the vulnerability of these janitors – all were African-American, many were young females new to the workplace, with disabilities, working the isolated night shift. Employers must take proactive measures to stop predators who would abuse their power over vulnerable workers.”

Protecting vulnerable workers from harassment, disparate pay, and other discriminatory policies is one of the priorities identified in EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace provides practical resources for employers who want to address workplace harassment.

According to its website, Calidad Industries is a subsidiary of Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay and provides vocational training and employment to those with significant disabilities.