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Furthering the Protections Against Workplace Discrimination and Harassment

The 1990s witnessed a substantial boost in public awareness about discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Popular movies such as Philadelphia (for which Tom Hanks won an Academy Award) and Disclosure involved themes of employment discrimination and intrigued the country. This heightened attention may have been part of the impetus contributing to a significantly increased Commission workload, particularly in the number of race and sex discrimination charges received by EEOC. Race discrimination charges accounted for an average of 38 percent of all charges filed with EEOC the highest percentage of all charge filings, which has been the historical trend since 1965. Sex discrimination charges were the next highest, accounting for 30 percent of all charges filed in the 1990s. The Commission noted that harassment was becoming a problem beyond its more well known form of sexual harassment. The Commission took note that in addition to sex, racial, national origin, and religious harassment claims seemed also to be increasing.

During this decade, EEOC achieved a significant number of important court decisions and settlements providing redress for individuals who had been subjected to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Some significant examples include:

  • A 1995 favorable court decision in a case where EEOC alleged that the defendant beauty salon discriminated against two women by refusing to accommodate their request for a day off to observe their religious holiday of Yom Kippur and then subsequently discharging them. The court ordered more than $65,000 in back pay and interests, and reinstated one of the charging parties who had not yet found employment.
  • A 1998 consent decree involving Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America where EEOC alleged a widespread pattern of sexual harassment and retaliation. The settlement included $34 million in monetary relief to a class of 300 to 400 current and former employees, and extensive injunctive relief, including revisions of company policies and complaint procedures, establishment of supervisor accountability for sexual harassment practices, and appointment of monitors for a three-year period to oversee the changes and resolutions of complaints.
  • A 1998 consent decree with Astra U.S.A. Inc. resolving allegations that the employer engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment resulting in the discharge of several female employees. The decree provided $9.85 million to a class of almost 100 women, required the employer to revise its employment policies, and mandated that the workplace changes be reviewed through a monitoring system.
  • A 1999 consent decree in a case where EEOC alleged a broad pattern or practice of egregious sexual harassment and retaliation against female Hispanic employees by Tanimura & Antle, the country's largest lettuce grower and distributor. The consent decree which resolved this case required payment of $1.85 million in damages, as well as revisions to existing employment policies and procedures, and mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.
  • A 1999 consent decree with American Seafoods Company where EEOC alleged that the defendant subjected 18 Vietnamese at-sea workers to discriminatory living and working conditions and a hostile work environment because of their national origin. Under the terms of the consent decree, the defendant paid $1.25 million to the charging parties, and agreed to implement a formal training program to prevent harassment, and to report to EEOC on its progress in ensuring compliance with the consent decree.
  • A 1999 settlement with Woodbine Healthcare Center resolving allegations that the defendant recruited Filipino nurses with promises of hiring them as registered nurses in the United States, but instead placed them in nurse assistant positions at substantially lower pay, or in registered nurse assignments at reduced pay. EEOC also claimed that the employer harassed the victims with threats of deportation when they complained. EEOC obtained relief of $2.1 million for 65 class members.
  • A 1999 settlement with Long Prairie Packing Co. resolving a lawsuit alleging a pattern or practice of male same-sex harassment, and harassment based on disability, in a meat packing plant. EEOC obtained $1.9 million for the employees.

The Commission also directed particular attention to the situation of pregnant women in the workplace. EEOC successfully challenged a number of discriminatory employment policies affecting pregnant women, including:

  • An EEOC lawsuit against AT&T Technologies, challenging policies that forced pregnant employees to take leave before medically necessary, and which provided no guaranteed return to a job following such leave. EEOC recovered $66 million in a 1991 settlement.
  • An EEOC lawsuit challenging the denial of service credit for pregnancy-related leave taken by female employees before the effective date of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Settlement of this case in 1999 provided service credit for approximately 10,000 current and former employees, resulting in an estimated $25 million in pension adjustments and restoration of other benefits.

Next: Supreme Court in the 1990s


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