Agency Says Complaints of Misconduct at Vet Pharm Were Ignored
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A South Dakota animal health products distributor violated federal civil rights laws by allegedly permitting a male employee in its Sioux Falls distribution center to sexually harass female employees, even after direct complaints were made to a manager, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed Friday.
According to the EEOC’s suit, between 2007 and 2008, an employee of Vet Pharm, Inc. told sexually explicit jokes and made highly personalized sexual comments which demeaned and humiliated female employees. The EEOC’s administrative investigation 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 allegedly raised with upper management, the company failed to stop the harasser’s conduct, which was so severe that a female employee felt forced to quit her job.
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit, which was docketed before Judge Lawrence L. Piersol, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Vet Pharm, Inc., Civil Action No. 11-4025), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“It appears -- and we intend to prove it in court -- that Vet Pharm knew about this man’s alleged misconduct but allowed him to continue to abuse female employees by engaging in highly sexualized speech,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago. “What Vet Pharm didn’t seem to get is that, under federal law, women don’t have to put up with that kind of talk to keep their jobs.”
The EEOC’s lawsuit stems from a charge of discrimination that was filed by a former employee of Vet Pharm.
In this case, the EEOC is seeking injunctive relief that will require Vet Pharm to obtain training on sexual harassment and adopt an effective sexual harassment prevention policy that complies with federal law. The EEOC will also seek back pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the original complainant and a class of Vet Pharm’s female employees who suffered sexual harassment.
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 and EEOC’s legal team in the Minneapolis Area Office will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office. That 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.