MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A federal appeals court has upheld a jury verdict of over $1.5 million in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC's) lawsuit against a High Point, N.C.-based logistics services provider for sexual harassment and retaliation, the federal agency announced today. The EEOC had charged the company with subjecting three temporary female employees to sexual harassment and retaliation against them for complaining, as well as against a male employee who supported the women's claims.
According to the EEOC's suit, New Breed Logistics unlawfully discriminated against three female workers in its Memphis warehouse who were sexually harassed by a New Breed supervisor, and retaliated against them after they objected to his sexual advances. The EEOC also charged that a New Breed supervisor retaliated against a male employee who verbally opposed the supervisor's sexual harassment and supported the women's complaints.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed the lawsuit, Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-02696-STA-tmp, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis on Sept. 23, 2010, after the agency first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement out of court. On May 9, 2013, a federal jury in Memphis found in favor of the EEOC, and awarded the discrimination victims $1,513,094.
Today the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury finding. The opinion from the Sixth Circuit, on an issue of first impression, clarified the scope of protected activity under the opposition clause of Title VII's retaliation provision. The Court of Appeals held:
"The EEOC is pleased that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that courts should give 'great deference' to the EEOC's interpretation of opposition conduct under Title VII," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez.
The appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was handled by Assistant General Counsel Lorraine C. Davis and Appellate Attorney Susan Oxford of the EEOC Office of General Counsel's Appellate Services Division.
Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the Memphis District Office, said, "In this case the employees verbally complained to the supervisor asking him to stop the harassing behavior on numerous occasions, but their complaints were ignored. Today, the Sixth Circuit affirms that such complaints to the supervisor constitute protected activity under Title VII."
New Breed Logistics, a logistics services provider that helps companies design and operate supply chains, warehousing and distribution, operates five Memphis warehouses. New Breed is a national company, headquartered in High Point, N.C. The company also has warehouses in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles and Kearny, N.J.
Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Additionally, preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is another of the priorities identified by the SEP.
On March 30, 2015, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang announced the formation of a select task force of academics, practitioners and stakeholders, under the co-leadership of Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, to study harassment in the workplace in all its forms and the ways in which it could be prevented.
The EEOC enforces laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.