The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced two high-profile settlements of race claims – one for discrimination and one for harassment – that highlight the dangers of employers failing to protect applicants and employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These claims help show the risks employers face – both financial and in poor public relations – when they allow or fail to prevent discrimination or harassment.
The first claim is a race-discrimination case brought against Pensec, Inc. a Wisconsin corporation that operated nine McDonald’s restaurants. The EEOC sued Pensec for failing to hire qualified Black applicants. In this case, there was direct evidence of race discrimination because the store manager used racial slurs against Black applicants and told them the store needed “Spanish people.” Not surprisingly, when the restaurants’ hiring data was compared to the demographic census data from the surrounding area, it showed Black applicants were hired at lower rates than would be expected. Pensec, Inc. was required to pay $31,137, required to make best efforts to reach hiring goals for Black employees, and required to provide training on Title VII to its employees and make regular compliance reports to the EEOC.
In the second case, the EEOC sued Eureka Stone Quarry, Inc. a Pennsylvania-based mining and materials sales company. The lawsuit alleged a Black heavy equipment operator at one of the company’s quarries was subject to egregious racial harassment including repeated racial slurs and threats of violence. The harassment became increasingly severe over time. A Black employee was threatened with firearms, including an incident in which one of the harassers fired multiple shots from a rifle on company property while the Black worker was nearby and not long after he had driven past the harasser. The company was aware of the racial harassment but failed to take action to stop it from occurring. The company was required to pay $58,000, to implement measures designed to prevent workplace harassment, including revised anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures, anti-harassment and investigations training, and to appoint a company equal employment opportunity officer responsible for investigating and remedying potential harassment and possessing full authority to carry out those responsibilities, in addition to the company’s required periodic reporting to the EEOC.
These cases highlight both the ongoing need to address and root out harassment and discrimination in the workplace and the significant risks employers face when they fail to do that. Employers should be diligent in conducting regular employee training on Title VII, reviewing anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and reporting policies to ensure they are robust and current, and must be quick to address reported harassment or discrimination to stop it and to protect employees as Title VII requires.