Credit Union Fired a Black Branch Manager Because She Opposed Use of a Racially Offensive Video During a Training Session, Federal Agency Charged
NEW ORLEANS - A Louisiana credit union has agreed to pay a former branch manager $110,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's suit charged that Lafayette, La.-based Lafayette Schools Federal Credit Union, now known as Meritus Credit Union, fired Connie Fields-Meaux because she opposed - and assisted another employee in opposing - its use of a racially offensive video during a training session. Fields-Meaux ran the credit union's branch in Crowley, La. The suit alleged that the credit union used the video, which depicted a caricature of a black fast food worker, as an example of "how not to provide customer service." Fields-Meaux, who is African-American, left the session because she found the video offensive, and she later reported that another employee, who is also black, had told her that he found the video offensive, as well. Within days, the credit union fired her without warning or explanation.
Such alleged conduct violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it unlawful for an employer to fire - or otherwise retaliate against - an employee because the employee implicitly or explicitly opposed conduct that he or she reasonably believed was unlawful. The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 18-6673) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana earlier this year. Under the three-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk, the credit union will pay Fields-Meaux $110,000 in monetary relief and provide a variety of other, non-monetary relief. For instance, the credit union will provide regular training to its employees on retaliation.
Farmworker Sexually Assaulted and Retaliated Against for Reporting the Misconduct, Federal Agency Charged
TAMPA, Fla. - A federal jury rendered a verdict on Dec. 19, 2018 awarding $850,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to a female farmworker at Favorite Farms in Dover, Fla., who was raped by her supervisor and reported it to police and management that same day, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
The evidence at trial showed that management at Favorite Farms, which primarily grows strawberries, failed to properly investigate the complaint, and instead sent the victim home from work without pay the next work day. Favorite Farms took no action against the harasser, leaving him to supervise women in the fields, despite evidence that this was not the first complaint of sexual harassment. Instead, Favorite Farms continued retaliating against the victim and forced her to take a leave of absence.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 8:17-cv-01292-JSM-AAS) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The Tampa jury of seven returned a unanimous verdict finding that the victim was entitled to compensatory damages of $450,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $400,000.
"This verdict is significant because the jury was able to see the plight of a vulnerable woman at work," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney of the EEOC's Miami District Office. "I want to thank the litigation team which was able to secure this substantial jury verdict."
EEOC Trial Attorney Oshia Gainer Banks added, "Today's verdict reinforces every woman's right to be safe in the workplace. It is unfortunate that, when a woman was raped on their property, Favorite Farms chose to retaliate against their employee rather than take action against its manager."
Michael J. Farrell, district director of the EEOC's Miami District Office, added, "This verdict also sends a strong message to employers who fail to work together with the EEOC during the administrative phase of any investigation where a violation of the law is found. Stopping sexual harassment continues to be a priority at the EEOC and this verdict shows that we are ready and able to enforce the law."
Predecessor Hudson City Savings Bank Denied Disability Accommodations to Employees, Federal Agency Charged
NEW YORK - Wilmington Trust Corporation, a Delaware corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of M&T Bank Corporation, which is based in Buffalo, N.Y., has agreed to pay $700,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The lawsuit concerned alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Hudson City Savings Bank (HCSB), which merged into Wilmington Trust in 2015.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, HCSB had a long-standing inflexible policy and practice of placing employees with impairments or disabilities on involuntary leave unless or until it received their medical provider's clearance to return to work with no restrictions. This practice resulted in denying qualified individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodations, as well as placing qualified individuals with disabilities on involuntary leave and/or discharging them because of disability. HCSB's conduct affected employees in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. One such employee was a Harrison, N.Y., teller who was prescribed a cam walker boot to treat Achilles tendonitis and bone spurs. Instead of simply allowing her to wear the walker boot, which would not have affected the essential functions of her job, HCSB placed her on involuntary leave and then fired her.
The ADA protects employees from disability discrimination, including the failure to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to qualified individuals who have a disability, have a record of disability, or are regarded as disabled. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (EEOC v. Wilmington Trust Corporation, Civil Action No. 17-cv-05077), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
On Dec. 19, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas entered a consent decree resolving the case. In addition to a $700,000 award for lost wages and other damages, the decree includes a two-year injunction against policies or practices at Wilmington Trust that would require employees to work with "no restrictions" or otherwise deny employees an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. In addition, Wilmington Trust will explicitly advise all former HCSB employees currently employed by Wilmington Trust, known as legacy employees, that HCSB's long-standing workplace accommodations and disability leave policy is no longer in effect. To further ensure that these legacy HCSB employees are aware of the change in policies, Wilmington Trust will also conduct trainings on its disability discrimination policy, the ADA, the ADA's requirement of reasonable accommodation, and other statutes enforced by the EEOC.
"HCSB's policy was in place since at least 2002 and, knowing of the 'no restrictions' requirement, some employees did not even attempt to request necessary accommodations of their disabilities," said EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein. "Wilmington Trust's actions required by the consent decree will ensure that legacy employees will be fully informed that HCSB's long-standing policy no longer applies."
Kevin Berry, the EEOC's New York district director, added, "We hope that this settlement will help inform employers and the public at large that the ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process and does not allow for such 'no restriction' policies. The consent decree also demonstrates how a successor entity can take action to make sure a predecessor's discriminatory practices do not infect its workplace."
Qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against people with disabilities are an emerging and developing issue, which is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).