Lighting Company Fired Security Guard Because His Grandfather Had Sued It, Federal Agency Charged
ST. LOUIS -- Philips Lighting of North America will pay $56,000 and furnish other relief to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. EEOC charged that Philips retaliated against a security guard at its Salina, Kan., plant when it recognized him as the grandson of a former employee who had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company.
According to the agency's suit, Philips's human resource director recognized security guard Jake Velasquez when an outside security company assigned Velasquez to work at Philips's plant. Velasquez's grandfather had previously worked at the plant and sued the company for discrimination. Philips took action to have Velasquez terminated and removed from the plant, and, referencing the grandfather's lawsuit, forbade Velasquez from returning to the plant.
EEOC's suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Philip's Lighting of North Am. Corp., 2:15-CV-09296), filed in September 2015 in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, charged that Philips's removal of Velasquez from his position as a security guard unlawfully interfered with his employment and constituted retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The agency filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with the company through its conciliation process.
In addition to monetary relief for Velasquez, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins Philips Lighting from subjecting any applicant, employee or employee of a contractor providing services at Philips Lighting's facilities to adverse treatment because he or she, a family member, or a person with whom he or she is closely associated has engaged in protected activity under federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII. Philips will also revise its retaliation polices and educate employees and onsite contractor employees regarding their protection from retaliation. Additionally, Philips will submit annual compliance reports to EEOC during the decree's term.
"Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in complaints received by EEOC," said James R. Neely, Jr., director of EEOC's St. Louis District Office. "Federal law prohibits retaliation against family members as well as retaliation against employees who challenge discrimination in the first place."
Andrea G. Baran, EEOC's regional attorney in St. Louis, added, "Workers have a right to challenge employers' discriminatory practices without fear of retaliation against themselves or their family. EEOC is committed to protecting workers who report employment discrimination, as well as their family members."
Jeff Lee, a senior trial attorney in EEOC's Oklahoma City Area Office, said, "To disagree with an employee's charge of discrimination is the right of an employer; however, under our laws, that right does not extend to harming innocent bystanders such as the family members of the employee."
Somerset, N.J.-based Philips Lighting of North America operates as a subsidiary of Philips Electronics North America Corporation, which in turn is a corporate division of Dutch-based worldwide energy giant Royal Philips.
In August 2016, EEOC issued updated Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, which addresses adverse employment action taken against close family members as an example of prohibited retaliation. Preserving access to the legal system is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
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.