Water Company Fired Foreman Because He Complained About Racial Slurs, Federal Agency Charges
PHILADELPHIA - Aqua America, Inc., doing business as, Aqua Resources Inc., a Pennsylvania-based water company, violated federal law by subjecting black employees to a racially hostile work environment and firing a foreman in retaliation for complaining about the harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the suit, Aqua hired Henry Blue, who is African-American, in January 2015 as a foreman at its Bear, Del., facility. The EEOC charged that his supervisor, a white superintendent, and other white foremen repeatedly made racially offensive jokes and derogatory comments, including calling Blue and other black employees racial slurs such as "n----r," "monkey" and "boy." The superintendent also told a white employee "not to n----r the truck up," the EEOC said.
Blue complained to company management officials about the offensive racial comments to which he and other black employees were subjected. Aqua not only failed to stop the harassment, but it even promoted one of the wrongdoers and assigned Blue to work under his supervision on a project, the EEOC said. In May 2016, Aqua fired Blue in retaliation for complaining about the racially hostile work environment, the EEOC charged.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to harass employees on the basis of race or to retaliate against individuals who complain about discrimination. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Aqua America, Inc., d/b/a Aqua Resources, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-04346) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. As part of the suit, the EEOC is seeking back pay on behalf of Blue and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Blue and other class members, as well as broad injunctive relief.
"All employees have the right to earn a living without being subjected to racial epithets and derogatory comments," said EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence.
EEOC District Director Kevin Berry added, "Aqua was put on notice about the vile harassment but punished one of the victims instead of the wrongdoers. The EEOC has provided detailed recommendations and resources to assist employers in preventing workplace harassment, but will take strong enforcement action when employers choose to ignore their legal obligation to have a workplace free from harassment and retaliation."
The EEOC's Philadelphia District Office is one of four offices in the Philadelphia District, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan. In 2015, the Commission convened a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, led by Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum and current Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. The report includes detailed recommendations for harassment prevention, including a chart of risk factors that may permit harassment to occur; effective policies and procedures to reduce and eliminate harassment; recommendations for future research and funding; and targeted outreach. In addition, it offers a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers and other stakeholders. It can be found on the agency's website at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/6-20-16/index.cfm.
According to company information, Aqua Resources, Inc. is a Pennsylvania domestic corporation that provides water and wastewater service through operating and maintenance contracts with municipal authorities and other parties close to its utility companies' service territories. The company offers, through a third party, water and sewer line repair service and protection solutions to households. It is a subsidiary of Aqua America, Inc., a publicly traded company that provides water or wastewater services in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey, Indiana and Virginia.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.