School Bus Drivers Touched and Taunted by Supervisor, Then Forced Out Upon Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
LOS ANGELES — School bus operator First Student, Inc. will pay $150,000 and provide other relief to settle a lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC had charged that four female employees at the company were sexually harassed, retaliated against or forced to quit. Ohio-based First Student claims to be North America’s leading school bus transportation services company.
According to the EEOC, a male supervisor at its facility in Los Angeles sexually harassed at least four women, including bus drivers and a human resources assistant. The supervisor began by making constant explicit remarks about their body parts and the sexual acts he wanted to perform on them. The harassment turned physical when the supervisor exposed himself, grabbed the breasts of a bus driver and rubbed his private parts onto her, the EEOC charged.
The EEOC contends that a male manager who received their complaints of harassment not only failed to correct the situation, but also disciplined one victim and transferred another in retaliation for complaining. The harasser cut another bus driver’s hours upon refusal of his advances and promised extra hours to female employees who might acquiesce, the EEOC said. Three of the victims felt forced to resign as a result of the ongoing harassment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits gender discrimination in employment, including sexual harassment and retaliation. The EEOC filed suit against First Student in September 2009 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (EEOC v. First Student, Inc., Case No. CV 09-7102 RVBKx) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Aside from the monetary relief, the parties entered into a consent decree, valid through 2012, which requires First Student to hire an outside EEO consultant to revamp the company’s policies, complaint procedures, investigations and training of its employees on sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation. First Student must also require supervisors to report such complaints to the human resources department within 24 hours of receipt and create a centralized tracking system for those complaints. The decree covers First Student locations in the California counties of Los Angeles and Orange, and the EEOC will monitor compliance.
“Last year, retaliation charges became the number one type of complaint that the EEOC received,” said Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “The increase signals a widespread problem wherein employers seem to choose retribution over working toward eliminating the sources of discrimination in the workplace. Employers must understand that workers have the right to complain, and it is illegal to retaliate against those that do.”
Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, said, “We encourage all employers to implement proactive relief to focus on prevention rather than reacting to problems after they occur. Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace, to any employee, and it is the employer’s responsibility to prevent and to immediately respond and correct the types of problems we saw in this case.”
According to the company’s website, www.firststudentinc.com, First Student provides student transportation services to schools in over 1,500 school districts in 42 states, transporting 6 million students across the country every day.
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.