Parties Agree Hobson Bearings' Lawsuit Against Former Employee Violated Equal Pay Act
ST. LOUIS - A federal judge in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Southwestern Division, entered an order on Aug. 25 in a case the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed against Hobson Bearing International, Inc., of Diamond, Mo., the federal agency announced today. EEOC had charged Hobson with violating federal employment law by suing a former employee after she filed a complaint of pay discrimination with EEOC.
EEOC filed the lawsuit in March (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hobson Bearing International, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-05034-SWH), after Hobson retaliated against Tera Lopez, a former project manager, by suing her for "malicious prosecution." Lopez first filed a discrimination charge with EEOC in 2015, raising concerns that Hobson, a bearing manufacturer, violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) by compensating female employees less than male employees for performing equal work. After EEOC completed its investigation of Lopez's complaint, Hobson sued Lopez in state court.
The order from Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah W. Hays, citing to cases which have held that an absolute privilege attaches to filing a charge with EEOC, concludes by acknowledging that "the parties agree that Hobson Bearing's action of filing the lawsuit because Lopez filed a charge of discrimination … violated [federal law], which prohibits 'discriminat[ion] against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint.'"
Judge Hays awarded Lopez $37,500 in damages and ordered Hobson to completely dismiss its lawsuit against Lopez and not file any other lawsuit or pursue counterclaims against her based on the allegations in the charge she filed with EEOC.
"Employees need to know that EEOC will swiftly investigate and enforce the robust federal laws that provide strong protections for those, like Ms. Lopez, who raise claims about discrimination and are retaliated against," said EEOC St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. "Hobson Bearing's action of bringing a lawsuit against Ms. Lopez was an egregious attempt to undermine her rights."
Andrea G. Baran, EEOC's regional attorney in St. Louis, added, "Employers need to realize EEOC will vigorously challenge such retaliation and intimidation. We are very pleased that Hobson Bearing acknowledged, albeit belatedly, the prohibition against suing employees for malicious prosecution when they invoke their absolute right to file a discrimination charge."
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and a portion of southern Illinois. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.