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PRESS RELEASE
3-12-09

EEOC SUES AUSTIN FOAM PLASTICS FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT, RACIAL HARASSMENT AND RETALIATION

AUSTIN, Texas – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that it has filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Austin Foam Plastics, Inc., a pro­ducer and distributor of corrugated box and cushion packaging. The EEOC charged the company with racial harassment, sexual harassment and unlawful retaliation.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Civil Action Number A-09-CA-180-LY, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, African American employees routinely experienced racial harassment. Black employees described being routinely subjected to discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, insults, racially offensive comments and jokes, cartoons and images which denigrated African Americans.

Other offensive conduct experienced by black employees included a racist cartoon e-mailed to a black employee by a white co-worker; racist jokes told to black employees by white co-workers and managers; a photograph of a broken-down pick-up truck full of black persons, with the names of some of the company’s black employees written on the picture (displayed prominently by a manager); and taunts and insults such as “you don’t mess with Whitey around here.”

The lawsuit also charged that a female manager sexually harassed male employees by subjecting them to unwelcome sexual comments and unsolicited physical contact of a sexual nature and that she conditioned more favorable terms and conditions of employment based on acquiescence to her sexual advances and overtures.

The EEOC further asserted that Austin Foam fired a male employee in retaliation for complaining about the unlawful discrimination.

“In this situation, management knew about the harassment, and even participated in it in some instances,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney David Rivela. “Rather than taking steps to stop the harassment, the defendant ignored the problem, thus making it worse.”

Sexual harassment, racial harassment and retali­ation all violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The remedies sought by the EEOC include back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for the victims, as well as injunctive relief.

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith G. Taylor added, “It’s hard to imagine that in the 21st century sexual and racial harassment are still so widespread in the workplace. When charges such as these are substantiated after investigation, the EEOC will aggressively seek to make things right for the victims. The type of unwanted, intrusive and demeaning behavior to which these men were subjected has no place in an American workplace.”

Race discrimination is the most frequent type of charge filed with the EEOC since the agency’s opening in 1965. In fiscal year 2007, more than 30,000 charges of race discrimination were filed with EEOC offices nationwide. Further, there were over 2,000 sexual harassment charges filed by males in fiscal year 2007.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race, color, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, age, disability, and retaliation. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.