COURT ORDERS SCOTTSDALE WINE BAR TO PAY $100,000 IN EEOC SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND RETALIATION SUIT
PHOENIX — A federal district court on March 21 ordered a Scottsdale, Ariz., wine bar to pay $100,000 for sexual harassment against two servers because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and for retaliation against one for complaining about it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the suit, announced today. The court also ordered injunctive relief against Scottsdale Wine Café, LLC, doing business as 5th & Wine.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, 5th & Wine allowed its management and line staff to harass Wyatt Lupton and Jared Bahnick, including egregious name calling, comments, innuendos and touching. Although the two employees complained to their supervisors, the supervisors did nothing about the conduct, and, in some instances, actually participated in the harassment, according to the federal agency. When Lupton mentioned that he planned on taking legal action against 5th & Wine, the company fired him, the EEOC said.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (Civil Action No. CV-17-00182-PHX-JJT), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
After 5th & Wine failed to defend itself in court, the district court held a default judgment hearing on Feb. 6, where the judge found 5th & Wine liable for sexual harassment and retaliation. On March 21, the court granted the EEOC’s request to award Lupton and Bahnick compensatory and punitive damages totaling $100,000. The court also granted injunctive relief against 5th & Wine, including enjoining the company, its officers, agents, successors and other persons in active concert or participation with it from engaging in employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, including harassment because of sexual orientation, and retaliation in the future. The injunctive relief also required 5th & Wine and any successors draft and distribute policies regarding sex discrimination and retaliation, post equal employment opportunity notices and provide training on sex discrimination and retaliation.
“These two men were subject to absolutely unacceptable slurs and abuse at 5th & Wine, and we are proud that the district court understood the need to compensate them and to make sure that the company will take steps to prevent discrimination against others,” said EEOC Phoenix District Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “Employers must understand that this kind of misconduct will not be tolerated.”
EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, “This company should have acted right away to put a stop to this unlawful behavior. Instead, it made a bad situation worse by punishing one of the victims. Employers may not discriminate against employees because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation – or retaliate against them for complaining about it.”
The EEOC’s Phoenix District Office has jurisdiction for Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and part of New Mexico (including Albuquerque). More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.
STEMILT GROWERS AND AG SERVICES TO PAY $95,000 TO SETTLE EEOC HARASSMENT, RETALIATION SUIT
Latina Demoted After Refusing Supervisor’s Sexual Advances, Federal Agency Charged
SEATTLE — The largest grower of organic tree fruit in the United States, Wenatchee, Wash.–based Stemilt Growers and its wholly owned subsidiary Stemilt Ag Services, will pay $95,000 to a Latina tractor driver and implement preventative measures to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Heidi Corona, the only female tractor driver at Stemilt’s Wenatchee orchard, faced sexual harassment by her direct supervisor on her second day at a new location. He drove her to a remote area and made sexually explicit comments, propositioned her for sex, and attempted to kiss her. Trapped in a moving vehicle at an unfamiliar and remote location with no cell service, Corona asked him to stop and stated that she was only there to work. When she reported the harassment to upper management, Corona was given a choice of continuing to work under that supervisor or transferring to a warehouse for a lower-paying job sorting fruit. To avoid further contact with the supervisor, Corona took the sorter position.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and prohibits them from retaliating against an employee who reports harassment. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Stemilt Growers, LLC and Stemilt AG Services, LLC, 2:17-cv-00210-TOR) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after an investigation led by the EEOC’s Seattle Field office and after attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process.
Under the consent decree, Stemilt will pay Corona $95,000 and will provide an anti-discrimination policy and annual training to all management and staff. The company also agreed to institute complaint-handling procedures and to hold management and supervisors accountable for how they respond to these matters. In addition, Stemilt will post a notice on the case, and report annually to the EEOC for a three-year period.
“I hope that as a result of this settlement, Stemilt will listen to a woman who reports harassment and will give her support and not punishment,” Corona said. “My message for other women workers is, ‘Don’t be afraid to use your voice, don’t stay silent.’ There are people at Northwest Justice Project and the EEOC who will help you find justice. The truth will come to light.”
Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office, said, “Sexual harassment dominates the national conversation. Now more than ever, employers must show leadership, demonstrate accountability to all employees, and foster civil workplaces where everyone is shown respect.”
Carmen Flores, EEOC senior trial attorney, noted, “Ms. Corona just wanted to drive her tractor, a rare position for a woman to hold in that industry. Instead, she was forced to give up a job she loved and take a pay cut to avoid harassment, an all-too-familiar pattern for workers across industries as seen from #MeToo accounts. We hope this settlement sends a clear message that EEOC can be a key resource in the fight to end workplace sexual harassment.”
Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC and its wholly-onwed subidiary Stemilt Ag Services LLC operate and manage over 150 orchard in Eastern Washington.
SALVATION ARMY TO PAY $55,000 TO SETTLE EEOC DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT
Aid Organization Refused to Hire Qualified Applicant at Wasilla Store Due to His Intellectual Disability, Federal Agency Charged
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Global humanitarian organization The Salvation Army will pay $55,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, The Salvation Army refused to hire Eric Yanusz as a donation attendant, an entry-level position, at its Wasilla, Alaska thrift store. The position required no prior experience and involved accepting and sorting donated clothing, furniture and household goods. Yanusz, who has an intellectual disability, had completed high school and a follow-up job readiness program, finished three internships at medical centers, and held a part-time job at a local church by the time he applied for the attendant position in spring 2014. After a successful first interview, the EEOC found that Salvation Army imposed a highly unusual second interview on Yanusz and ultimately rejected him due to unfounded concerns about his ability to interact with the public.
“I wanted to have a job and make money like everyone else,” said Yanusz. “I felt really good after my interview and thought I got the job.”
His mother, LuAnn Yanusz, added, “Eric was embarking on a new chapter in his life where the focus was on what he could do, rather than on his limitations. It was a big blow for him when he was rejected due to unfounded fears about his disability.”
Failing to hire a person based on disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska at Anchorage (Case No. 3:16-cv-00240-SLG) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Yanusz was also represented by private counsel, Joanna Cahoon, from Disability Law Center of Alaska in Anchorage.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $55,000 to Yanusz in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Salvation Army to train its corps officers and human resources personnel on hiring obligations and assessing reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The Salvation Army will also implement and disseminate a modified ADA policy, and will post a notice for employees about the consent decree and employees’ rights under the ADA.
EEOC attorney May Che said, “The ADA was enacted to ensure that employers evaluate candidates based on individual merit rather than general stereotypes about what people with intel-lectual disabilities can or cannot do. This settlement helps ensure that all workers have a level playing field and can participate in the workforce to their fullest ability.”
Nancy Sienko, field director for the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office, commented, “We are very pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit. The changes that will be implemented as part of this settle-ment will go a long way in reaffirming The Salvation Army’s mission.”
According to publicly available information and its website, www.salvationarmyusa.org, the Salvation Army employs over 100,000 people and serves over 120 countries worldwide.
EEOC SUES MERRITT HOSPITALITY, HEI HOTELS AND RESORTS LLC FOR DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION
Company Failed to Provide Ventilated Space for Employee With Asthma, Federal Agency Charges
SAN DIEGO — Merritt Hospitality, LLC and HEI Hotels and Resorts LLC, who together operate the Embassy Suites San Diego Bay, a San Diego hotel that has over 300 guest rooms, violated federal law when they denied a reasonable accommodation to an employee with asthma, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Friday.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employee’s workspace at the hotel was in a room with no windows and no ventilation. These conditions triggered severe respiratory problems, which resulted in the employee being hospitalized overnight. Instead of engaging in the legally required interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation, such as an air conditioning unit or different work space, could be provided, the hotel fired the employee, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (EEOC v. Merritt Hospitality, LLC, et al., Case No. (3:18-cv-0654 MMA-AGS) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s suit seeks monetary damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent and correct discrimination.
“The interactive process is at the heart of the ADA,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, whose jurisdiction includes San Diego County. “A good-faith dialog with an employee enables an employer to identify possible reasonable accommodations and prevents the employer from violating the ADA.”
Christopher Green, director of the EEOC’s San Diego Local Office, added, “Many accommodations for disabilities are low-cost or no-cost, causing little or no disruption to the business. Employers are required to explore such possibilities for good reasons.”
CORAL GABLES TRUST COMPANY TO PAY $180,000 TO SETTLE EEOC SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND RETALIATION SUIT
Male Supervisor Harassed Female Executive Assistant and Marketing Officer and Retaliated After She Complained, Federal Agency Charged
MIAMI – Coral Gables Trust Company (CGTC), a South Florida-based privately held trust company that provides wealth investment management and trust services throughout Florida, will pay $180,000 and provide significant equitable relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a female executive assistant and marketing officer was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her gender and then retaliated against after she complained. The hostile work environment included verbal and physical harassment based on her sex at CGTC’s Coral Gables office and at various locations throughout South Florida that the executive assistant visited on business trips.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit against CGTC in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division (Case No. 1:18cv21148-JAL/JJO) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through EEOC’s conciliation process.
The EEOC and CGTC reached an agreement to resolve the suit through a consent decree that requires the company paying $180,000 to the discrimination victim and providing her with a positive job reference. In addition, the decree requires that CGTC retain an independent equal employment opportunity consultant to investigate all complaints of sex-based harassment, discrimination or retaliation. The company must also distribute a revised policy against sex discrimination; post a notice informing employees about the suit; provide anti-discrimination training to all managers and employees; and provide individual training to the company’s chief wealth advisor. Further, CGTC agreed to designate two board members to receive future complaints of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
“The EEOC has long recognized the role that power imbalances in the workplace, such as those between managers and their direct subordinates, can play a role in permitting and perpetuating sexual harassment,” said Michael Farrell, district director for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “Sexual harassment is plainly illegal under federal law, and the EEOC will continue to combat it.”
EEOC Miami District Office Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg added, “The EEOC will not only keep enforcing federal anti-harassment laws, it will also continue to encourage employers to implement and maintain robust training in order to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place.”
The EEOC’s Miami District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and conducting agency litigation in Florida, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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.