Agency Challenges Harassment and Retaliation Across the Country
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed seven lawsuits this week against various employers charging them with harassment, and also announced a major resolution of a harassment lawsuit. This is the second time in two months that the EEOC has coordinated multi-state actions on harassment. This second tranche of cases demonstrates the agency's commitment to using its enforcement powers, as necessary, to address harassment - on all bases - where it occurs.
"Workplace harassment causes serious harm to women and men in all kinds of jobs across the country," said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. "These lawsuits allege harassment based on race, national origin and sex and involve workers at country clubs and cleaners, sports bars and airlines, in health care and grocery stores. When employers fail to protect their employees from harassment, the EEOC may bring legal action to stop the harassment and prevent future harm."
Lipnic continued, "I commend our investigative and trial teams and our Office of General Counsel for their work on these important cases. I also commend the individuals who came forward and, in many cases, also suffered retaliation for reporting the harassment. Their employers should have rewarded them, not punished them for speaking up."
Of the seven lawsuits filed this week, five alleged sexual harassment, two alleged racial harassment and one also alleged harassment based on national origin. Five of the seven also included claims that the employees were retaliated against for reporting the harassment, demonstrating that the fear of reporting is real and justified.
The EEOC's Los Angeles Office and San Diego Field Office filed suit against Fairbanks Ranch Country Club for sexual harassment and retaliation against a class of female employees. According to the EEOC's suit, the manager solicited naked pictures from female employees; grabbed their buttocks; attempted to kiss them; offered one employee to male customers for lap dances; and even choked one employee. The EEOC further charged that the manager abused his position by requiring sexual favors for job benefits. When the women would refuse, the manager threatened termination or reduced their working hours, which forced some female employees to resign.
The EEOC's Phoenix District Office and Albuquerque Area Office filed suit against Ojos Locos Sports Cantina for sexual harassment by managers and co-workers and for retaliation. The EEOC charges that a group of women were subjected to pervasive unwelcome conduct, including requests that they show more cleavage in their uniforms, comments about their breasts and buttocks, comments by male employees about their penises, text requests for sex, and unwelcome touching of their bodies, which created a hostile work environment for them. The EEOC also alleges that women who complained about the harassment suffered negative job consequences, such as fewer hours, unfavorable shifts or changes to work assignments. The EEOC charges that one women was fired because she opposed the illegal harassment. Finally, the EEOC claims that the hostility of the environment and Ojos Locos' failure to correct it forced other women to resign.
The EEOC's Phoenix District Office and Denver Field Office sued Amada Senior Care for sexual harassment and retaliation of two female employees. The EEOC charges that the women were subjected to pervasive unwelcome conduct, including unwelcome touching of their breasts and buttocks and derogatory sexual remarks when they provided in-home care to a client. The client also allegedly exposed himself to the women and touched them with his genitals. When the women brought this behavior to the attention of Amada Senior Care, the company failed to investigate the allegations and continued to assign them to the client, creating a hostile work environment for them. After the women complained about the harassment, Amada retaliated by cutting their work hours, terminating one of them, and forcing the other to quit.
The EEOC's Atlanta District Office filed suit against Piggly Wiggly for subjecting two female workers to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliating against them for opposing the sexual harassment. The EEOC's lawsuit alleges that a male employee made lewd sexual comments and sexual advances to two female store clerks at a Piggly Wiggly store in Hogansville, Ga. The women reported the harassment to the store manager on multiple occasions, but the company failed to take any action to stop the harassment. Instead, the company cut one employee's hours after she complained, and later terminated both employees after they filed a written complaint detailing the harassment.
In a suit filed against United Airlines, the EEOC's Dallas District Office and San Antonio Field Office alleged that United allowed a hostile work environment of sexual harassment over a multi-year period. A United captain frequently posted sexually explicit images of a United flight attendant to various websites, making reference to the flight attendant's name, home airport, and sometimes referencing the airline's tagline "Fly the Friendly Skies." The lawsuit alleges that the posts were seen by several male co-workers and adversely affected the flight attendant's working environment. United failed to prevent and correct the pilot's behavior, even after the flight attendant made numerous complaints and provided substantial evidence to support her complaints.
The Chicago District Office of the EEOC filed a race harassment lawsuit against Murex Petroleum Corp., a Texas-based oil and gas company operating in Tioga, N.D. The EEOC's lawsuit alleges that white co-workers called an African-American casual laborer racial slurs such as "spook," "spade" and "Buckwheat." The coworkers also made racially derogatory comments including using the racially offensive term "n----r-rigged," the EEOC alleged. His supervisor witnessed the harassment, but no action was taken to stop it.
The EEOC's Houston District Office and New Orleans field office sued Marion's Cleaners for harassment based on race and national origin and retaliation for firing the victim who complained about it. The lawsuit alleges that one of the company's employees spent months continually telling the victim that she "needed to go back to Mexico," that she "was nothing," that she was a "stupid Mexican," a "dirty Mexican," and to "shut up" when speaking Spanish. When the employee reported the comments to Marion's Cleaners, it did nothing. The employee asked her co-worker to stop making the comments and he responded by grabbing her by the hair, repeatedly punching her in the face, and then pressing her against an exposed steam pipe. She suffered severe, second-degree burns and trauma as a result of the incident. The suit alleges that Marion's Cleaners fired the victim for reporting the incident rather than taking action against the harasser.
Early this week, the EEOC announced that it had settled a lawsuit with Alorica, Inc., a third-party call center and technology services company for $3.5 million. The lawsuit alleged that Alorica subjected male and female customer services employees to a sexually hostile work environment. The three-year consent decree settling the suit requires sexual harassment training, including incorporating civility and bystander intervention training, for its employees, plus monitoring, reporting, and revisions to strengthen the company's policies and procedures.
Acting Chair Lipnic pointed out that roughly one-quarter of the EEOC's litigation filed in recent years has included an allegation of workplace harassment. Almost fully one-third of the 80,000 to 90,000 discrimination charges the EEOC receives each year include an allegation of harassment.
That is the tip of the iceberg. Studies show that more than 80 percent of individuals who experience harassment never file a formal complaint. Nearly three out of four individuals who experience harassment never even raise the issue internally as documented in the 2016 final report by Commissioner and now-Acting Chair Lipnic and Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum of the EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The report includes recommendations and resources regarding leadership, accountability, policies and procedures, training, and developing a sense of collective responsibility.
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.