Company Terminated Three Women When They Complained of Sexual Harassment by Their Female Manager, Federal Agency Charged
ST. LOUIS - Help at Home, Inc., a Chicago-based home healthcare provider that also does business in Missouri, has agreed to pay $302,500.00 in backpay and damages to three former employees and provide company-wide injunctive relief to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's allegations, Help at Home violated federal law by subjecting Shannon Schroeter, Kari McConnell and Jaclyn Stone to sexual harassment by Help at Home Area Manager Christine Qualls, and by firing them when they complained to the Chief Executive Officer.
The EEOC alleged Qualls made sexual comments and propositions to Schroeter, McConnell and Stone who were employed in the company's Hillsboro branch office. Qualls also openly engaged in sexual activities with her girlfriend in the office. The three employees sent an email to CEO Ron Ford complaining about Qualls' conduct. A few days later, Regional Vice President Rick Cantrell came to the Hillsboro office and interviewed the complainants. During the interview, he showed them blank termination and disciplinary forms and told them their answers to his questions would determine which form they would be given.
Later that day, Jaclyn Stone was demoted from an administrative position to an hourly home health care aide position. Approximately three weeks later, Qualls ordered Kari McConnell to be discharged for poor attendance after she returned from an approved medical leave to care for her seriously ill daughter. Qualls also disciplined Shannon Schroeter several times and discharged her four months after she complained to CEO Ford. No adverse action was taken against Qualls.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including same-sex sexual harassment, and retaliation for complaining about it. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (Civil Case No. 4:12-cv-01498-JAR), after first attempting to settle the matter informally.
In addition to the $302,500 settlement, Help at Home has agreed to take specific company-wide actions designed to prevent future sexual harassment and retaliation, including providing training to managers and supervisors on sexual harassment and retaliation and how to handle sexual harassment complaints. The company will also train all non-management employees on their right to be free from sexual harassment and retaliation and how to report complaints. Help at Home will post EEOC notices specifically prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation at all of its 146 branches spanning 10 states, and will periodically report to the EEOC of complaints of sexual harassment and the company's handling of the complaints.
"Sexual harassment is unacceptable and illegal whether it is engaged in by a supervisor of the opposite sex or the same sex," said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District Office. "The company further compounded its illegal conduct by discharging the complaining employees as retaliation. We believe the injunctive provisions of the consent decree will go a long way in educating Help at Home's workers and managers of their rights and responsibilities under the law."
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Eliminating practices that prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes is another one of six national priorities.
The EEOC St. Louis District Office has jurisdiction for Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and southern Illinois.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.