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EEOC Sues Hufcor for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

Company Did  Not Stop Harassment and Punished Employee for Her Complaints, Federal  Agency Charges

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Hufcor, Inc., of Janesville, Wis., the world's leading manufacturer of operable  and accordion partitions, violated federal law by allowing a female machine operator to be sexually harassed and then retaliating against  her for resisting that harassment, the U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to John Rowe, director of the EEOC's Chicago District, which  includes Wisconsin, the agency's investigation revealed that Katy Degenhardt, who worked as a machine  operator at Hufcor's Total Quality Plastics (TQP) division in North  Prairie, Wis., from May 7, 2007, to  Feb. 20, 2013, was touched inappropriately on a regular basis by her shift  coordinator for three years until he was finally fired in May 2012. 

Rowe said the EEOC found that Degenhardt repeatedly reported the  harassment and the retaliation to which she was subjected to Hufcor and TQP  officials, but the plant manager retaliated  against her for her complaints by denying her breaks, assigning her difficult  work, trying to reduce her wages, denying her advancement opportunities and taking  other adverse actions.  Rowe said that co-workers  supported Degenhardt's claim that she was punished where others were not  punished for the same actions, and that Hufcor and TQP did not take  corrective action until Degenhardt  hired a lawyer.

TQP ceased operations in July 2013.  Hufcor's alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights  Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining  about it.  The EEOC filed suit after  first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation  process.  The agency seeks compensatory  and punitive damages for Degenhardt,  an order barring future discrimination and other relief.  The suit, captioned EEOC v. Hufcor, Inc., d/b/a Total Quality  Plastics (Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-1186), was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin  in Milwaukee and assigned to U.S. District Judge Callahan.

"Sexual harassment is utterly  unacceptable in a 21st century American workplace," Rowe said.  "No one should ever have to endure such  misconduct, and the EEOC is here to help victims fight it and achieve justice  and civility where they have to work every day."

EEOC Trial Attorney Dennis McBride who will litigate the case on behalf  of the agency, said, "Despite  the focus on sexual harassment over the past 20 years, it continues to be an  area which demands our attention-especially where women are working in  male-dominated environments. Retaliation against employees exercising their  rights to complain about mistreatment is also an ongoing problem the EEOC needs  to combat.  And fighting discrimination  is always in the public interest.  So we  have at least three important reasons for pursuing this case."

EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson said, "Our experience has been that sexual  harassment is a violation which effective management can readily avoid if it is  determined to do so.  If word comes down  from the top-and is understood to be serious-that management will not stand for  harassment and retaliation and people who engage in it do so at the risk of  their jobs, it has a way of going away.  On  the other hand, in the absence of good management, sexual harassment and  retaliation can quickly get out of control and expose the employer to a serious  risk of loss."

According to its  website, Hufcor is a privately held U.S.A. corporation and is the world's  leading manufacturer of operable and accordion partitions.  Hufcor is headquartered in Janesville, Wis.,  and also has manufacturing facilities in Australia,  China, Germany, Malaysia and Mexico.  Its  export markets are Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia,  Europe, Canada and Mexico.

The EEOC's Chicago District Office is  responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement  and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North  Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and  Minneapolis.  The case will be litigated  by attorneys in the Milwaukee Area Office.

The EEOC enforces federal laws  prohibiting discrimination in employment.   Further information about the agency is available on its website at .