South Dakota Animal Products Company Subjected Employee to Hostile Work Environment, Federal Agency Charged
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A federal judge has approved a consent decree resolving a sexual harassment lawsuit against Vet Pharm, Inc., a South Dakota animal health products distributor, brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, between 2007 and 2008, a Vet Pharm employee told sexually explicit jokes and made highly personalized sexual comments which demeaned and humiliated female employees. Prior to filing its lawsuit, the EEOC conducted an investigation that indicated that complaints were made to a direct supervisor, who allegedly took no action to remedy the harassment. Further, the investigation showed that even after complaints were raised with upper management, the company failed to stop the harasser’s conduct, which was so severe that one female employee felt forced to quit her job, the EEOC said.
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit, which was assigned to Judge Roberto Lange, in U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Highstrom-Neilan v. Vet Pharm, Inc., Civil Action No. 11-4025), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The consent decree approved yesterday provides that Vet Pharm will pay $65,000, to be divided between two female former employees who worked at its Sioux Falls facility. The consent decree applies to Vet Pharm’s facilities in Iowa, South Dakota and Idaho. In addition to the monetary settlement, the decree also contains an injunction preventing further sexual harassment, sex discrimination or retaliation, as well as requirements that Vet Pharm provide training to its employees; report to the EEOC regarding future complaints; revise its sexual harassment policy and employee handbooks; and post a notice for employees about the resolution of the suit. The EEOC will monitor Vet Pharm’s compliance with the agreement for three years.
“Employers have an obligation to ensure that the workplace is free from sexual harassment,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago. “Sexualized speech at work is abusive, and women have a right to do their jobs without fearing abuse from their co-workers. When employers learn that sexual harassment exists in their workplace, they must take effective steps to end the harassment, and not just in the short term, but permanently.”
The agreement between the EEOC and Vet Pharm ending the lawsuit resulted from an early, voluntary mediation conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge John E. Simko.
Jean Kamp, associate regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “The EEOC commends Vet Pharm for its willingness to come to the table early in the case to try to reach a resolution.”
According to its website, www.vetpharminc.com, Vet Pharm is a full-service animal health products distributor providing services to veterinarians, with three locations in Iowa, South Dakota and Idaho.
Trial Attorney Jessica Palmer-Denig in the Minneapolis Area Office handled the EEOC’s litigation against Vet Pharm under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office. The Chicago District office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.