EEOC Charges Dunkin’ Donuts Franchisee With Sexual Harassment, Retaliation Against Teens

September 24, 2015

A franchisee of Dunkin’ Donuts with multiple stores and one office/kitchen in Westchester County, N.Y., violated federal law by subjecting young female workers to sexual harassment by a manager since at least 2011, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it recently filed.  EEOC also charged the company with unlawfully firing a female worker for opposing the sexual harassment and calling the police.

According to EEOC’s suit against Hillcrest Marshall, Inc., the store manager’s harassment included making sexual comments and propositions.  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not subject employees to a hostile work environment because of sex and cannot retaliate against employees for resisting or making complaints. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Hillcrest Marshall, Inc., d/b/a Dunkin’ Donuts, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Case No. 7:15-CV-7293) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

EEOC’s suit seeks monetary relief for the affected workers, as well as relief meant to remedy and prevent future harassment or retaliation at the company.  “It took a great deal of courage for these young women to come forward and speak up against the manager who had power over their livelihood,” said New York District Director Kevin Berry. “Employers need to implement strong policies so that victims can report sexual harassment without reprisal.”

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Henry’s Turkey Service, Heirs Must Turn over Almost $600,000 Owed to Disabled Workers

September 24, 2015

U.S. District Chief Judge Jorge A. Solis issued an order on September 11, 2015, to override a confidential settlement that would have re-directed over half a million dollars away from a class of 32 intellectually disabled former employees of Hill Country Farms, Inc. (HCF), dba Henry’s Turkey Service.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had asked the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas to monitor a suspicious land deal — a financial arrangement that would have resulted in a total of approximately $600,000 changing hands in settlement of an action for declaratory judgment filed in Mills County, Texas, where Henry’s Turkey Service was based.  As a result, the U.S. attorney’s office found evidence of what it found to be a fraudulent transaction and filed an emergency motion for a court intervention.

When issuing the order, Judge Solis wrote: “The Court does not believe it is by accident that the settlement proceeds make their way to the children of HCF’s owners, all while avoiding the reach of the United States.  This was an intentional scheme concocted solely to shield a substantial sum of money from the United States’ collection efforts.  Accordingly, the Court finds … any benefit due to the Estate under the Settlement Agreement is the property of HCF and, as such, is subject to this Court’s authority to aid the United States in obtaining satisfaction of its judgment against Henry and HCF.”

The U.S. attorney and EEOC had filed briefs seeking the court’s intervention to prevent the injustice that the government alleged would result if a secret side agreement were allowed to control a settlement of the Mills County action.

EEOC and the U.S. attorney were able to intercept and secure the monies as part of an effort to collect over $3 million in unpaid judgments obtained by two federal agencies against Henry’s Turkey for wages, financial exploitation, discrimination and abusive conduct against the disabled adults who worked in Texas and Iowa for decades while never being paid more than $65 per month.

The Motion for Turnover Order filed by the U.S. attorney in Case No. 3:12-CV-4737-P in the Dallas federal court sought to collect on both the $3.74 million judgment (2013) in favor of EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), against Hill Country Farms, dba Henry’s Turkey Service, and an earlier $1.7 million judgment (2011) by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) against the same defendant and corporate officer, Kenneth Henry, for minimum wage and overtime violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

“Since the time when most of the men were rescued from their deplorable working conditions in 2009, they have been waiting for compensation,” said Robert Canino, regional attorney for EEOC’s Dallas District Office, who worked closely with the U.S. attorney’s office in the collection.  “The jury verdict in 2013 struck a blow toward justice and brought to light important discrimination issues; however, the monetary aspect of the legal remedies has been slow in coming.  While the case has been very important in furthering societal dialogue on employment practices that can be misused to exploit the disabled, EEOC has not relented in its pursuit of the dollar compensation that these men earned by their sweat and their suffering.”

On May 1, 2013, a jury in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Davenport rendered a verdict of $240 million in favor of the 32 workers. The jury found that for years during their employment, the intellectually disabled men went unpaid and were subjected to substandard living conditions, restrictions on personal freedoms, denial of medical care and harsh discipline as well as verbal and physical harassment. The jury found further that the treatment suffered was because of the contracted turkey processing workers’ vulnerability as persons with intellectual disabilities.

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Lawsuit Settled Against Healthcare Commons to Enforce Employment Rights of National Guard Sergeant

September 24, 2015

The Department of Justice recently reached a settlement with Healthcare Commons Inc., resolving claims that the South Jersey company failed to re-employ a Delaware woman when she returned from her deployment with the National Guard, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey.

The civil lawsuit, filed in Camden federal court, alleged that Healthcare Commons, of Carneys Point, New Jersey, willfully violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which protects the rights of uniformed service members to retain their civilian employment following absences due to military service obligations, and provides that service members shall not be discriminated against because of their military obligations.

“Cases like this one not only provide financial relief to soldiers returning from overseas but also ensure that employers fully understand their employment obligations to servicemembers,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “Through the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, the Department of Justice will continue using every tool at our disposal to protect the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces from unjust actions and illegal burdens.”

“The men and women who wear our nation’s uniform need to know that they will be protected from the types of injustice experienced by Ms. Tolliver,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice, through its enforcement of USERRA, strongly supports the right of service members to retain their rightful positions in the workforce both while they serve and after they complete their military service to our country.”

According to the complaint, Megan Toliver, 32, of New Castle, Delaware, is a former employee of Healthcare Commons.  She joined the U.S. Army National Guard in September 2004 and, most recently, had served as a sergeant, with honorable service as a mental health specialist.  When Toliver returned from her military deployment in May 2014, she notified Healthcare Commons that she was seeking re-employment.  Healthcare Commons willfully violated USERRA by not re-employing her as a mental health screener or in another comparable position.

Under the terms of a consent decree, which was filed today in federal court, Healthcare Commons agreed to pay $18,500 as back pay and liquidated damages to Toliver.  Healthcare Commons also agreed to adopt a new personnel policy that informs employees of their rights and obligations under USERRA and to provide USERRA training to all supervisory staff.

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VXI Global Solutions To Pay $600,000 For Sexual Harassment Of Call Center Staff

September 24, 2015

VXI Global Solutions, a provider of call center services for major nationwide companies, will pay $600,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency recently announced. 

EEOC filed suit against the company in September 2014, alleging that beginning in 2009 two classes of employees (female and male) endured a hostile work environment, created by at least 13 harassers, including male and female supervisors.  Female employees were subjected to unsolicited groping and touching, constant or continued sexual propositioning, and grotesque comments of a sexual nature by male supervisors.  EEOC also contends that male employees were subjected to repeated sexual advances with foul descriptions of proposed sexual activity, unwanted lap dances and physical rubbing by female supervisors.  Male employees who refused to participate were targets of unlawful gender stereotyping when they were accused of being gay because of their objection to the harasser’s behavior. 

Supervisors also allegedly threatened and intimidated the staff to prevent complaints.  Numerous attempts to report the harassment to human resources personnel were stymied by their lack of availability.  After VXI Global Solutions’ supervisors and/or human resources personnel were eventually advised of the harassment, several of the alleged victims were subsequently disciplined and terminated in retaliation. In its lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California (EEOC v. VXI Global Solutions, Inc. a/k/a, VXI Global Solutions, LLC, Case No. 2:14-cv-07444), EEOC alleged that the sexual harassment, gender stereotyping and retaliation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In addition to the monetary relief, VXI Global Solutions agreed to retain an equal employment opportunity consultant to revise the company’s policies and procedures with respect to sexual harassment and retaliation; and to provide training in those areas to all employees nationwide along with additional training for management and human resources personnel on how to effectively deal with such complaints. They also agreed to maintain a centralized system to track internal sexual harassment and retaliation complaints; conduct surveys at company sites in Los Angeles, Texas and Ohio; and to post a notice on the matter at the Los Angeles site. EEOC will monitor compliance with the four-year consent decree.

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OFCCP Creates an Infographic to Explain its Jurisdictional Thresholds

September 24, 2015

As a part of its ongoing outreach and education efforts, OFCCP developed a new “Jurisdictional Thresholds” infographic.  The infographic helps employers, employees, and other interested parties easily determine when OFCCP’s Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 503), and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act regulations apply to companies doing business with the federal government.

This new resource includes the recent increase to Section 503’s coverage threshold from $10,000 to $15,000.  The increase resulted from an inflationary adjustment statute that authorizes the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to review and adjust “acquisition-related” threshold amounts in statutes that apply to federal procurement.

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2016 Federal Contractor Minimum Wage Rate Released – Poster Updated!

September 24, 2015

On February 12, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13658 establishing a minimum wage for federal contractors.  Effective January 1, 2015, the minimum hourly wage for workers performing work on covered contracts was $10.10.  The Executive Order gave the Secretary of Labor the authority to determine the hourly rate for subsequent years.

With this authority, the U.S. Secretary of Labor announced the new minimum hourly rate effective January 1, 2016 will be $10.15 – a $0.05 per hour increase.  The new minimum wage for tipped employees covered by the executive order will increase as well effective January 1, 2016 to $5.85 per hour.

The U.S. Department of Labor has revised its required poster to reflect these figures. We will ship this updated poster with the new “EEO is the Law” Supplement. Both posters will be sent as individual, new posters and are not part of the large format federal contractor poster.

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U.S. Department of Labor Sues FLDS Church, Others for Oppressive Child Labor and Other Violations; Seeks to Enforce $1.9M in Penalties

September 15, 2015

For most children, fall begins a new school year full of possibilities to learn and prepare for their lives ahead and future jobs. Unfortunately, for hundreds of children in southern Utah and northern Arizona, the season is a time for hard work harvesting pecans by hand for commercial sale.

A multi-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division revealed that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FLDS Church Bishop Lyle Jeffs, Dale Barlow, Brian Jessop, and Paragon Contractors Corp. employed young children illegally to harvest pecans.

The department recently took administrative action to collect $1.9 million in civil money penalties from Paragon, Jessop and Barlow associated with child labor violations from the 2012-2013 pecan harvest. The department also filed a lawsuit against the church, Jeffs and Barlow seeking back wages, and initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws.

In its investigation, the Wage and Hour Division found FLDS leaders directed schools in Hildale, Utah, and nearby Colorado City, Ariz., be closed so that children and adult laborers could work collecting pecans. During the 2012-2013 harvest, investigators found that at least 175 children under the age of 13 worked harvesting pecans. At least 1,400 FLDS children and adults worked in the fields for no compensation.

“For years, these employers have trampled on the rights of workers, both children and adults, and violated our child labor laws forcing minors to work for them. Such disregard for the rights of all workers, especially children, will not be tolerated,” said Wage and Hour Division Administrator, Dr. David Weil. “The legal actions taken today send a clear message that the Wage and Hour Division will take any and all actions necessary to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Today we speak up for those who could not or would not speak up for themselves.”

The department filed a lawsuit against the FLDS Church, Jeffs, and Barlow on Sept. 8, 2015, alleging that in 2012 and 2013, these employers violated the minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This action will seek back wages and an injunction against future violations.

The same day, the department also initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws, by employing children in the pecan harvest. As a remedy for the contempt, that action also seeks back wages for the children and adults who received no pay during the pecan harvest, as well as additional restrictions as part of the injunction.

Finally, the department commenced an administrative action seeking $1.9 million in civil money penalties from Paragon, Jessop, and Barlow. The penalties are associated with the child labor violations from the 2012-2013 pecan harvest. Penalty assessments against the FLDS Church and Jeffs for the same violations have already become final orders of the department, as those parties did not contest the penalties when they were assessed against them.

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EEOC Wins Jury Verdict of over $17 Million for Victims of Sexual Harassment and Retaliation at Moreno Farms

September 15, 2015

A federal jury has returned a unanimous verdict awarding a total of $17,425,000 to five former female employees of Moreno Farms, Inc., a produce growing and packing operation in Felda, Fla., who suffered sexual harassment and retaliation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, two sons of the owner of Moreno Farms and a third male supervisor engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment against female workers in Moreno Farms’ packaging house, including regular groping and propositioning, threatening female employees with termination if they refused the supervisors’ sexual advances, and attempting to rape, and raping, multiple female employees.  All five women were ultimately fired for opposing the three men’s sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The case was tried by EEOC Trial Attorneys Beatriz André and Daniel Seltzer.

“EEOC has been at the forefront of combating employment discrimination on behalf of farmworkers,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez.  “We are committed to ensuring that all immigrant and vulnerable populations are protected by the anti-discrimination laws, and this is the latest in a number of successful cases that we have litigated to stop these discriminatory practices.”

This case was filed on Aug. 29, 2014 along with another, separate lawsuit charging an agricultural nursery with sexual harassment of a female worker at the hands of her supervisors.  These lawsuits sought to raise awareness of, and underscore EEOC’s longstanding nationwide commitment to, addressing the plight of this vulnerable segment of workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under equal employment laws.

On Sept. 10, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in the Moreno Farms case, awarding $2,425,000 in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages to the five female farmworkers, who intervened in EEOC’s lawsuit and were represented by Victoria Mesa-Estrada of Mesa and Coe Law, P.A. and Gregory S. Schell, managing attorney for Florida Legal Services’ Migrant Farmworker Justice Project.

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BMW to Pay $1.6 Million and Offer Jobs to Settle Federal Race Discrimination Lawsuit

September 15, 2015

The U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina recently entered a consent decree ordering BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC (BMW) to pay $1.6 million and provide job opportunities to alleged victims of race discrimination as part of the resolution of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The lawsuit, filed by EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, alleged that BMW excluded African-American logistics workers from employment at a disproportionate rate when the company’s new logistics contractor applied BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines to incumbent logistics employees.

More specifically, the complaint alleged that when BMW switched contractors handling the company’s logistics at its production facility in Spartanburg, S.C., in the summer of 2008, it required the new contractor to perform a criminal background screen on all existing logistics employees who re-applied to continue working in their positions at BMW. At that time, BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines excluded from employment all persons with convictions in certain categories of crime, regardless of how long ago the employee had been convicted or whether the conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony.  According to the complaint, after the criminal background checks were performed, BMW learned that approximately 100 incumbent logistics workers at the facility, including employees who had worked at there for several years, did not pass the screen. EEOC alleged that 80 percent of the incumbent workers disqualified from employment as a result of applying BMW’s guidelines were black.

Following an investigation, EEOC filed suit alleging that blacks were disproportionately disqualified from employment as a result of the criminal conviction records guidelines.  EEOC sought relief for 56 African-Americans who were discharged.  BMW has since voluntarily changed its guidelines.

BMW will pay a total of $1.6 million to resolve the litigation and two pending charges related to the company’s previous criminal conviction records guidelines that had been filed with EEOC. In addition to monetary relief, BMW will offer employment opportunities to the discharged workers in the suit and up to 90 African-American applicants who BMW’s contractor refused to hire based on BMW’s previous conviction records guidelines. BMW also will provide training on using criminal history screening in a manner consistent with Title VII.  Additionally, BMW will be subject to reporting and monitoring requirements for the term of the consent decree.

“EEOC has been clear that while a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment, Title VII requires that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job related and consistent with a business necessity,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC’s General Counsel.

“We are pleased with BMW’s agreement to resolve this disputed matter by providing both monetary relief and employment opportunities to the logistic workers who lost their jobs at the facility,” said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for the Charlotte District Office. “We commend BMW for re-evaluating its criminal conviction records guidelines that resulted in the discharge of these workers.”

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Con Edison To Pay $3.8 Million To Resolve Sex Discrimination/Harassment Charges Filed With New York A.G. And U.S. EEOC

September 15, 2015

Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. will pay $3.8 million and furnish other relief to resolve charges by a class of women workers that Con Edison subjected them to sexual harassment and/or various forms of sex discrimination, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced.

The joint settlement agreement between EEOC, the attorney general’s office and Con Edison resolves allegations of ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination against women in field positions.  The agreement requires Con Edison to reserve up to $3.8 million to be distributed among eligible settlement group members – as many as 300 blue-collar women workers employed in field positions between 2006 and 2014 – through a claims process to be administered by EEOC and the attorney general’s office.

“My office will fight to stop discrimination and harassment that women all too often continue to face at work.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.  “This agreement sends a clear message to employers across New York State: All women, including those working in male-dominated workplaces, are entitled to equal justice under law.”

EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry said, “These women signed up for strenuous work when they took these important jobs — they did not sign up for demeaning job assignments, to be denied promotional opportunities, and to be subjected to rampant harassment, all simply because of their gender. EEOC will continue fighting discrimination in our nation’s workplaces.”

Con Edison provides electric, gas, and steam service to approximately 3.4 million customers in New York City and Westchester County.  Both EEOC and Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau launched an investigation into complaints made by women working in field positions at Con Edison about ongoing sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The women workers alleged that they faced widespread harassment by male co-workers and a hostile work environment based on gender and that Con Edison had failed to address this discrimination. EEOC also received complaints from women that they had been delayed or denied promotions from the entry-level general utility worker position to various next-level positions because of gender.

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