An Ithaca, NY-based manufacturer, Porous Materials, will pay $93,000 in addition to providing other relief to settle a harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Details of the Dispute
Per the lawsuit filed by the EEOC, Porous Materials cultivated a work environment comprised of sexism, racism, and national origin discrimination where managers used racial slurs, abusive statements toward women, and made other crude remarks.
Among the harassment included claims that the plant manager said women could not perform a “man’s job,” offered unwanted sexual advances toward women, and made comments about female employees’ bodies. In response, the company owner began treating female employees the same way rather than taking disciplinary action against the manager.
The manager also encouraged immigrant employees to leave America, mocked employees who spoke English as a second language, and used racial slurs towards the company’s only black employee.
All of these behaviors were found to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and national origin and protects employees who receive retaliation for complaining about it. A pre-litigation settlement failed and now Porous Materials will pay $93,000 to settle the suit and fulfill obligations with the EEOC for the next 4 years. Those obligations include training of legally permitted policies as well as ongoing monitoring of discrimination complaints.
Discriminatory Company Culture
Given the varied complaints made by different employees surrounding this lawsuit, it seems that Porous Materials cultivated a company culture where discriminatory behaviors were allowed. A case like this acts to demonstrate that allowing inappropriate behavior can escalate into harassment and discrimination without much discernment, leaving the company liable to damages. This case also serves as another reminder that when employees complain to management about abuses happening in their work environment, managers should heed those complaints and take appropriate action swiftly.
Regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, Jeffrey Burstein, said, “Harassment prevention starts at the top. And just having an anti-harassment policy doesn’t cut it. When owners and executives aren’t committed to a respectful workplace, abuse can often follow.”
Reminder for Employers
Employers are encouraged to audit their policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and reporting of such complaints, to ensure they are compliant with the laws in place that establish rightful protections for employees. All managers and employees should be made aware of these policies and what the expectations are if someone comes forward with a complaint. These steps can help limit employer liability when an employee reports abuses in the workplace and can help manage the high cost of managing such issues publicly.
Additionally, managers and company owners should ensure their workplace culture fosters respect and does not provide any allowances for behavior that could violate these important laws.
If you are working in a discriminatory environment, please know that you have our support. No one should have to experience discrimination or harassment based on race, national origin, or gender, especially in their place of employment. There are steps you can take to protect yourself. Take a look at our strategies for handling workplace discrimination.