Federal Agency Brings $725,000 Claim for Female Employees to Bankruptcy Court
SEATTLE - A federal judge has entered a consent decree approving a $725,000 settlement against Federal Way, Wash.-based precious metals dealer Northwest Territorial Mint to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC was able to prosecute its suit on behalf of five former employees even after the mint filed for Chapter 11, and the Bankruptcy Court has authorized the trustee handling the mint's business matters to enter into the settlement.
The EEOC alleged that owner Ross Hansen sexually harassed female employees to a point where one worker was forced to quit and other female victims were fired. The EEOC investigation found that Hansen repeatedly made lewd sexual comments to and about his female employees, including telling offensive sexual jokes, using derogatory terms for female genitalia, and commenting on women's breast sizes and body shapes.
"I faced shocking, sexually explicit behavior, but the owner's bullying and screaming at me was just as bad," said former receptionist Patricia Hoffman. "I was just trying to make a living for myself and my family, but I finally said, 'I can't take this anymore' and quit."
Sexual harassment and forced resignation violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Northwest Territorial Mint, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-01554) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Seattle Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Because the mint is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization proceedings, the settlement entitles the EEOC to bring the $725,000 claim against the mint in bankruptcy court, and the EEOC class member claims will depend on the outcome of the bankruptcy proceeding.
In addition to the monetary component of the settlement, Northwest Territorial Mint agreed to completely overhaul its sexual harassment policy and practices. It will also report to EEOC on settlement compliance, including complaints of sexual harassment against Hansen, for six years if Hansen owns part of the reorganized company, is a board member, or is employed in any capacity by the entity or successor to the mint.
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley said, "The EEOC will not be deterred from prosecuting sexual harassment cases just because a company files for bankruptcy. If the company is reorganizing, it is in everyone's best interest that awareness and prevention of harassment gets front-loaded into the company's culture."
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, "Sexual harassment laws apply to everyone in the workplace, especially the head of the company, who has a duty to keep all employees safe. When harassers take advantage of their authority to abuse their victims and keep them silent, the EEOC must fight for workers' rights to a workplace free from discrimination and harassment."
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.