GEO GROUP TO PAY $550,000 TO SETTLE EEOC SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND RETALIATION LAWSUIT
Class of Female Staffers Abused at Private Correctional Facilities, Federal and State Agencies Charged

PHOENIX — The GEO Group, Inc., operator of the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) and Arizona State Prison-Florence West Facility (Florence West) in Florence, Ariz., will pay $550,000 and furnish other relief pursuant to a consent decree to settle lawsuits for sexual harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office (ACRD), the EEOC announced today.

The EEOC’s and ACRD’s allegations involved many other forms of sexual harassment and retaliation occurring in the years between 2006 and 2012. The EEOC and ACRD charged that the harassment included sexual assault, a male manager grabbing and pinching the breasts and crotch of a female correctional officer, and a male employee forcing a female employee onto a desk, shoving her legs apart, and kissing her. The EEOC and ACRD also alleged a wide variety of verbal harassment, including male officers asking female officers for sex, a male officer calling a female officer “bitch” and “f—ing bitch” daily, and supervisors and officers making sexually explicit comments to female officers. The EEOC and ACRD said that these comments included offensive remarks such as “All I want to see of you is the top of your head bobbing up and down while you are on your knees,” and a supervisor frequently saying that women should be barefoot and pregnant.

The EEOC and ACRD also charged that GEO retaliated against female employees when they complained of the harassment. The EEOC and ACRD charged that when women complained or sought help from GEO, the company would discipline the women, force them to quit, fire them, or place them in unsafe conditions in the prison.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, 2:10-cv-02088 MHM, in September 2010, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. ACRD filed a similar suit, and the two lawsuits were consolidated under Case No. 2:10-cv-01995 SRB. After the district court dismissed claims on behalf of a class of women identified during the litigation and held that some of the allegations did not rise to the level of actionable harassment, the EEOC and ACRD appealed the district court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings in a published opinion on March 14, 2016. The Ninth Circuit first held that the EEOC and ACRD had properly sought relief for women identified during litigation. (Arizona ex rel. Horne v. Geo Group, Inc., 816 F.3d 1189, 1200 [9th Cir. 2016]). The Ninth Circuit held that the EEOC and ACRD must be allowed to discover additional aggrieved individuals during litigation when they conciliate on behalf of a class. With regards to the dismissed harassment claim, the Ninth Circuit reversed because the cumulative effects such misconduct has on a woman — such as unwanted physical contact, a male employee making gestures while talking dirty, officers using profanity, and officers saying that her bra set off the metal detector — were enough to go to trial. Id. at 1206-07.

The consent decree resolving this case provides $550,000 for 16 women who had been dismissed from this case in 2012. GEO also must send letters of regret to the women and provide employment references for them. In addition, GEO will review its equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies, ensure that all complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation are immediately and thoroughly investigated by a neutral employee, and ensure that the complainant is informed of the results of the investigation. GEO is also required to designate certain alleged harassers as ineligible for rehire, post notices of the consent decree in its Florence facilities, conduct anti-discrimination training, and include EEO compliance when evaluating its managers.

“Sexual harassment has no place in the work environment,” said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “This kind of misconduct is degrading and inexcusable and violates federal anti-discrimination laws. In the June 2016 Workplace Report by Acting Chair Lipnic and Commissioner Feldblum, the Select Task Force on the Study of Sexual Harassment in the Work-place identified several studies that demonstrated that sexually harassed women can experience depression, stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. We are proud of these women for standing up and helping to end this sexually hostile work environment.”

EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, “Retaliation occurs all too often when employees complain about harassment and discrimination. In fact, over 45 percent of all charges the EEOC receives allege retaliation. Retaliation can reinforce a hostile work environment by discouraging workers from reporting harassment and encouraging harassers to continue their mistreatment of other employees. Employers must take note and take steps to ensure that employees who complain about discrimination are not retaliated against either.”

The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque).

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

ALOHA AUTO GROUP TO PAY $30,000 TO SETTLE EEOC RETALIATION SUIT
Employee Fired for Advising Other Employees to File Hostile Work Environment Complaints, Federal Agency Says

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Aloha Auto Group, Ltd. will pay $30,000 and provide other relief to settle a lawsuit for retaliatory discrimination filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC’s suit alleged that Aloha Auto Group fired Daniel Young because he encouraged a group of Asian-American and Pacific Islander employees at Aloha Auto Group’s Harley-Davidson dealership on Kauai to complain about a racially discriminatory comment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit against Aloha Auto Group, Ltd. (EEOC v. Aloha Auto Group Ltd, Case No: 1:16-cv-00521-KSC) in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii in 2016 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The consent decree settling the suit provides $30,000 in damages to Young and requiring Aloha Auto Group, Ltd. to designate an equal employment opportunity (EEO) monitor to ensure the company’s compliance with Title VII and anti-retaliation policies and procedures.

The decree also requires a complaint process and impartial investigations, together with a centralized tracking system for discrimination and retaliation complaints and provisions holding employees accountable for discrimination and retaliation. Annual training on race-based discrimination and retaliation will be provided for those involved in human resources and at the management level to educate them on their rights and responsibilities on race-based discrimination and retaliation, with the goal of preventing and deterring any discriminatory practices in the future.

“The EEOC takes retaliation seriously because it undermines the integrity of the federal process for reporting and preventing discrimination,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction.

Glory Gervacio Saure, director of EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office, added, “This settlement reinforces the EEOC’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that race-based discrimination has no place in today’s workplaces.”

According to the company’s website, www.aaghi.com, Aloha Auto Group owns and operates a chain of car and motorcycle dealerships throughout the islands of Hawaii.

Preserving access to the legal system by targeting policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

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

PIONEER HEALTH SERVICES TO PAY $85,000 TO SETTLE EEOC DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION SUIT
Mississippi Health Care Company Illegally Fired Employee After She Underwent Liver Transplant Surgery, Federal Agency Charged

JACKSON, Miss. — Pioneer Health Services, Inc., a Mississippi corporation that provides inpatient and outpatient health care services, has agreed to pay $85,000 to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, in July 2012, Joyce Dumas, who worked for Pioneer as a social worker/therapist, became ill and was hospitalized due to liver failure. She requested leave while she underwent liver transplant surgery, and Pioneer approved the request. After successful transplant surgery on Aug. 2, 2012, she was slated to return to work in mid-September. However, when Dumas requested several weeks additional leave to recover from the surgery, Pioneer denied the request and subsequently fired her because she had exhausted her company-approved leave. Further, Pioneer refused to re-hire Dumas for an available social worker/therapist position several months later.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability, unless the employer would suffer an undue hardship as a result. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-00016-GHD-DAS) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Aberdeen Division on Feb. 3, 2017 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to monetary relief, the five-year consent decree settling the suit requires Pioneer to provide training to its employees on its obligations under the ADA and review its anti-discrimination policies and modify them if necessary, and enjoins the company from engaging in any discrimination or retaliation because of disability in the future. The decree also requires Pioneer to assign a senior company official, trained in the requirements of the ADA, the responsibility of providing written recommendations to Pioneer’s management before terminating any employee based on his or her actual, perceived, or record of a physical or mental impairment, or for exhaustion of medical leave.

“The intersection of the ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act will continue to be an area of focus for the EEOC,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, the EEOC’s Birmingham District director who oversaw the agency’s investigation. “We are pleased Pioneer has agreed to implement training and revise its anti-discrimination policies.”

Marsha L. Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, added, “Employers should understand they cannot simply fire an employee with a disability once she has exhausted her allotted 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Rather, the ADA requires the employer to determine whether that employee can be accommodated by a brief extension of leave that would enable the employee to return to work.”

The EEOC’s Birmingham District Office has jurisdiction over Alabama, Mississippi (all but 17 counties in the northern part of Mississippi), and the Florida Panhandle.

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