For the second time in as many months, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a series of separate but similar lawsuits against private employers across the country, alleging workplace harassment.
The seven new legal cases included a mix of sexual harassment, racial harassment, and harassment based on national origin claims. In five of the seven cases, retaliation was also alleged.
Grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly is facing claims that two female employees were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment, and then retaliated against for complaining about the harassment.
In its suit against United Airlines, the EEOC alleged that a male captain subjected a female flight attendants to a sexually hostile work environment over a period of years, and that airline failed to take corrective action after the flight attendant complained and provided evidence to back up her claims.
A Texas oil and gas company, Murrex Petroleum Corp., allegedly did nothing to stop racial harassment against an African-American worker even after a supervisor witnessed the racial slurs and derogatory comments.
A Hispanic female employee of Marion’s Cleaners in Louisiana was allegedly the victim of harassment based on her race and national origin. When she confronted her male harasser, he physically assaulted her, leaving her with severe burns. However, instead of investigating or taking action against her harasser, the employer allegedly fired the victim for complaining.
A group of women working at an Albuquerque sports bar, Ojos Locos Sports Cantina, were allegedly subjected to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment by male employees and managers. The lawsuit claimed that female employees who complained were subjected to retaliatory actions including having their hours cut, receiving unfavorable work assignments or shifts, and termination.
An in-home care provider in the Denver, CO area, Amada Senior Care, was charged with subjecting two female employees to persuasive unwelcome sexual conduct by a male client. The women complained to their employer, however the employer allegedly failed to investigate the incident or take action and instead continued assigning the employees to the client. The employer is also accused of retaliating against the women.
Finally, the EEOC’s lawsuit against Santa Fe, California-based Fairbanks Ranch Country Club alleged that the private country club’s manager created a hostile work environment for female employees, subjecting them to sexual harassment and then retaliating against them for refusing to provide sexual favors for job benefits.
Coordinated Lawsuits Underscore the EEOC’s Commitment to Stopping Workplace Harassment
The EEOC reportedly receives 80,000 to 90,000 discrimination charges every year, of which nearly a third include harassment allegations. And, of the matters the EEOC chooses to litigate, approximately one quarter include workplace harassment allegations.
Filing multiple lawsuits against employers in a coordinated effort underscores the problem, and sends a clear message to employers across the country that the EEOC is serious about addressing it. In the EEOC’s August 9 press release announcing these new charges, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic reiterated the agency’s commitment to hold employers accountable when harassment and retaliation occur. “Workplace harassment causes serious harm to women and men in all kinds of jobs across the country…When employers fail to protect their employees from harassment, the EEOC may bring legal action to stop the harassment and prevent future harm.”
Regardless of industry, company size or geographic footprint, every employer should have policies and procedures in place to prevent and address workplace harassment and should document preventative and corrective actions taken. When harassment or other misconduct allegations arise, internal investigations must be thorough, independent, and prompt. Of course, having and following detailed policies and procedures will not guarantee that an organization won’t ever be the target of a harassment lawsuit. But, those measures can provide a solid foundation for defending against unwarranted claims, if the need arises.