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PRESS RELEASE
12-1-11

Butterball Sued By EEOC For Harassment, Firing Of HIV-Positive Employee

Turkey Company Violated Federal Disability Law, Agency Charged

GARNER, N.C. – The U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today that  Butterball, LLC, a Garner, N.C.-based turkey processing company, violated  federal law by subjecting an employee to a hostile work environment based on  the fact that she has Human Immunodeficiency  Virus (HIV), and firing her  because of that disability.

According to the lawsuit, Butterball  subjected Tracy Montgomery to harassment throughout her employment in October and  November 2009. Specifically, three of Montgomery’s co-workers  expressed to her on a daily basis that they did not want to touch her or work  with her because she is HIV-positive.  The three employees also referred to Montgomery using derogatory names to describe  her HIV status. The EEOC further alleges  that Montgomery  complained to her supervisor about the harassment on a daily or near-daily  basis, but the harassment persisted.  Butterball’s plant manager was also aware of the harassment after  conducting a meeting with Montgomery  and one of her co-workers to address an altercation that the co-worker  provoked. However, the next day, the  plant manager fired Montgomery.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)  protects employees with disabilities from being harassed, fired, or from other  employment decisions based on disabilities that are covered under the act, such  as HIV. The EEOC filed suit in U.S.  District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission v. Butterball, LLC, Civil Action No.  5:11-cv-00685) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement  through its conciliation process. The  EEOC seeks monetary damages for Montgomery as well as certain injunctive relief.

“Harassment that  targets a person with an ADA-covered disability, is just as much a violation of  federal law as harassment based on a person’s race, color, gender, age,  religion, or national origin,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for  the EEOC’s Charlotte  District. “HIV/AIDS has always been a sensitive health  issue, and an employer has no excuse for failing to intervene when an employee  complains of vicious harassment based on her HIV status.”

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Tina Burnside added,  “Employees have the right to work in an environment free from harassment, and  Title VII prohibits both harassment and firing an employee because of her  disability.”

President Barack  Obama has charged federal agencies to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy,  which includes addressing and preventing employment-related discrimination  against people living with HIV.This case serves as an example of how  the EEOC will strongly enforce federal laws to ensure that qualified people are  not wrongfully deprived of an opportunity to earn a living simply because of  their HIV status.

The EEOC enforces federal laws  prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site  at www.eeoc.gov.