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Press Release 12-14-2021

EEOC Sues Air Control Heating & Electric, Inc. for Sexual Harassment

HVAC Company President Sexually Harassed Female Employees for Years Despite Recurring Complaints, Federal Agency Charges

SEATTLE —Spokane Valley-based HVAC contractor Air Control Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., which does business as Air Control Heating & Electric, Inc., violated federal law when it permitted its top executive to sexually harass female employees despite being put on repeated notice of his behavior, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in federal court today.

According to the allegations in the EEOC’s suit, Air Control’s founder, owner and president Maxim Johnston, sexually harassed female employees on a near daily basis since 2010. His behavior included offensive graphic comments and sexually explicit innuendoes, touching women without their consent, unwanted remarks about their bodies, requests to wear more revealing clothing, leering, and offering tickets to a nearby strip club. He also repeatedly stated that female employees did not belong in the building trades because of their sex. Despite multiple reports of such conduct over the years, corporate directors (who were also company managers) failed to take prompt or effective actions to stop Johnston's harassment. Even after an HR expert hired by Air Control compared the company’s workplace culture to a “sewer” and criticized tolerating Johnston’s behavior, its directors allowed him to continue his sexual harassment unabated, causing one female employee to quit.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and requires employers to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and take steps to prevent such harassment. When an employer refuses to stop pervasive sexual harassment that makes a workplace intolerable and leaves an employee with no choice but to quit, the law holds that employer responsible under the theory of constructive discharge.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Air Control Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. d/b/a Air Control Heating & Electric, Inc. (Case No. 2:21-cv-00347) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC seeks lost wages, monetary damages including compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages on behalf of the class of female employees, and injunctive relief including training on how to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

“The law makes clear that every worker has a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment,” said EEOC Seattle Field Office Director Elizabeth Cannon. “For that reason, once an employee makes a complaint of sexual harassment, employers are required to investigate and take effective measures to stop and prevent future harassment.”

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che said, “Women working in non-traditional trades and historically male-dominated industries are often the focus of workplace sexual harassment. The EEOC has made a priority of defending the civil rights of vulnerable workers and will seek the full extent of legal relief for any and all victims of sexual harassment.”

Current and former employees who have information about sexual harassment at Air Control Heating & Electric or believe they were victims of harassment are encouraged to contact the EEOC. Lead Attorney Che can be reached at (206) 576-3022 or through email:AIRCONTROL@EEOC.GOV.

Air Control Heating and Electric, Inc. is based in Spokane Valley and provides HVAC, electrical and mechanical contracting services and employs approximately 40 employees.

The EEOC’s Seattle Field Office has jurisdiction over Eastern Washington. More information about sexual harassment can be found at

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.