Former Owner Harassed Employees Based on Sex, Race, and National Origin, And Fired Employees Who Filed Complaints, Federal Agency Charged
NEW YORK - Seapod Pawnbrokers, a chain of pawnshops in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., will pay $300,000 and cut ties with its former owner to settle an EEOC lawsuit charging harassment and retaliation against its Hispanic female employees, the agency announced today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Seapod's former owner and manager, Frank Morea, violated federal law when he harassed workers because of their sex, race and ethnicity, and fired workers who complained of the mistreatment. The EEOC said that Morea referred to the mostly Hispanic female workforce as "my Seapod bitches," regularly subjected them to graphic sexual comments, and referred to the women as his "whipping slaves." He also openly disparaged African-American customers, referring to them as "black bastards" and stating that the store smelled because "the monkeys are coming in." When employees resisted his sexual advances or complained about the harassment, he terminated them, the EEOC said.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment based on sex, race, or national origin and retaliation against employees for resisting or making complaints about such harassment. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Seapod Pawnbrokers, Inc., d/b/a Seapod Pawnbrokers, and Seapod Capital Group, LLC, d/b/a Seapod Pawnbrokers, Case No. 14-CV-4567) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Today U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto signed the four-year consent decree resolving the case. In addition to the $300,000 in monetary damages to be paid to the victims, the decree bars Morea from having any association with the company and forbids him from entering the stores or contacting employees. The decree also requires Seapod to implement policy revisions that provide for adequate complaint and investigation procedures, to distribute the policy changes to employees, and to post a notice of this resolution. Seapod will provide annual anti-harassment and anti-retaliation training for all employees, and allow the EEOC to monitor its employment practices throughout the decree's four-year term.
"Too often, workers feel helpless when harassed by their higher-ups, especially vulnerable workers in low-wage jobs," said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District. "The EEOC will hold employers to account for their unlawful conduct, particularly when vulnerable workers are targeted."
Thomas Lepak, the EEOC trial attorney assigned to the case, added, "Thanks to the sweeping changes agreed to in this decree, Seapod's employees will no longer have to endure abuse and insult just to keep their jobs."
Targeting workplace harassment, particularly harassment of vulnerable populations, is of one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
The New York District Office of the EEOC oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.