Owner Regularly Engaged in Sexually Inappropriate and Unwelcome Conduct Toward Female Employees, Federal Agency Charges
HOUSTON -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a class lawsuit today against Finch Air Conditioning of La Porte, Texas, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. In the suit (Civil Action No. 4:09-cv-03156), the EEOC alleged that certain female employees at this family-owned and operated business were subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the employment discrimination statutes the agency is charged with enforcing.
According to the EEOC, the owner and on-site manager of Finch Air Conditioning, used his position to harass a number of female employees, including Charging Party Kristal Hargett. The suit alleged the manager subjected women to unwanted sexual demands, boasting and questioning; sexual touching; and menacing and frightening them into silence about his conduct. The EEOC also charged that sexual harassment by other male employees was condoned within the workplace.
In addition, the EEOC alleged that other female employees were also subjected to sexually offensive conduct, including inappropriate groping and obscene comments. Inasmuch as the company lacked any effective sexual harassment policy, female employees had no effective avenue to complain about the harassment. Furthermore, not only was the owner the onsite manager, but subordinate managers included his wife and several of his adult children. None of these management employees took any action to prevent or correct the harassment. Hargett was ultimately forced to resign as a result of the continued harassment.
The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. In the suit, the EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in any further sexual harassment, as well as back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and other relief for Hargett and other victims.
“No one should be subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the workplace because of sex,” stated R.J. Ruff, Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office. “Such conduct is not only unacceptable, but patently illegal. The forced resignation of an employee under these circumstances constitutes constructive discharge, which also violates Title VII.”
Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney, added, “Employers are required by federal law to keep their workplaces free of sexual harassment and to remedy such conduct when it occurs. Failure to provide effective avenues for employees to complain about such harassment clearly violates the law and requires EEOC intervention.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.