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EEOC Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit; Settles Disability, Pregnancy, Transgender, and Pay Bias Suits

April 16, 2019

In unrelated developments, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the filing of a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against a Colorado employer, and the settlement of disability, transgender, and pay discrimination lawsuits against employers in Georgia and Tennessee, respectively. The EEOC separately announced that an Arby’s franchisee in Alabama and a healthcare provider in North Carolina have agreed to settle lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination.

Sexual harassment and retaliation. Brinker Restaurant Corporation, dba Chili's Grill & Bar, in Canon City, Colorado, violated Title VII by subjecting female employees to sexual harassment and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

The restaurant's managing partner and assistant manager subjected female servers and hostesses to sexual harassment, including pervasive sexual comments and innuendo, the EEOC contends. Further, the restaurant allegedly failed to take preventative or corrective action when employees complained about the harassment; some women who could not tolerate the harassment were forced to resign.

Management also took retaliatory action against some of the female employees who complained about the harassment, the federal agency said, including a reduction in scheduled hours.

Disability discrimination. Masterbuilt Manufacturing, LLC, has agreed to pay $60,000 to resolve allegations that the cooking products manufacturer violated the ADA when it denied leave as an accommodation to an employee with a disability and fired him while he was on medical leave.

The company denied the employee’s request for an accommodation in the form of leave for a short period to undergo treatment and counseling for stress caused by his Asperger's syndrome, the EEOC alleged. On several occasions in June and July 2017, the employee purportedly complained to the vice president of HR about his supervisor's conduct, which included repeated comments that the employee was "special."

Masterbuilt fired the employee while he was on leave, despite his repeated requests to return to work and being cleared by medical professionals to return to work, according to the EEOC.

Pay discrimination. Cummins, Inc will pay $77,500 and furnish other relief to settle allegations that the diesel engine manufacturer violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII when it paid a female employee less than her male counterpart for the same job.

The employee performed the benefits enrollment position for Cummins at its Business Services facility in Nashville, according to the EEOC. Cummins purportedly paid her less than a male employee, even though they performed the same job duties. At the request of the female employee, the company conducted a salary review to determine if it was appropriately compensating her, the Commission said. Allegedly, even though the company determined it paid the female employee less than her male counterpart, it nonetheless did not change her salary.

When the employee resigned almost a year later, Cummins still had not increased her pay to match the pay of her male coworker, the EEOC said.

Transgender discrimination. A&E Tire, Inc, has agreed to pay $60,000 and provide other relief to settle allegations that the Colorado tire company violated Title VII when it offered a job to an applicant but declined to hire him after learning he is transgender.

A&E Tire offered the applicant a job subject to a background check but then called him back when it saw that he had checked "female" on his background screening paperwork, according to the EEOC. The tire company purportedly then decided not to hire the applicant and ultimately hired someone else for the position.

Antidiscrimination protection. The EEOC said that it settled its lawsuit against the company after months of discovery and a federal district court order denying A&E Tire’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court held that the suit could proceed because the EEOC plausibly alleged that A&E Tire had not hired the applicant because he did not conform to sex stereotypes. In doing so, the district court recognized that discrimination against transgender individuals is discrimination based on sex stereotyping because transgender individuals identify as a sex different from their birth-assigned sex, the EEOC underscored.

Sexual harassment. Beavers' Inc, which owns and operates 51 Arby’s locations in south Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle, has agreed to pay $84,000 and provide other relief to settle allegations that it violated Title VII when it permitted a sexually hostile work environment for employees at an Alabama store. The EEOC investigated after three teenage female crew members filed discrimination charges.

Beavers’ permitted a sexually hostile work environment based on ongoing sexually explicit comments and other harassment by an older male team leader at its Atmore, Alabama, location, according to the EEOC. The harasser allegedly described sexual acts he wanted to perform with the teen workers, made inappropriate remarks about his anatomy, and deliberately pressed his pelvis against two of the female employees. The three teen workers, as well as other employees, purportedly complained multiple times to on-site management about the harassment, but the company allowed the harassment to continue.

Pregnancy discrimination. In a separate development, PruittHealth-Raleigh, LLC, has agreed to pay $25,000 and provide other relief to settle allegations that it violated Title VII when it denied a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee with a medically imposed lifting restriction and then unlawfully required her to resign because of her pregnancy-related lifting restriction.

The EEOC alleged that PruittHealth-Raleigh, which operates a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Raleigh, North Carolina, subjected a certified nursing assistant to disparate treatment by refusing to accommodate her pregnancy-related lifting restriction, while accommodating the restrictions of other non-pregnant employees who were injured on the job and who were similar in their ability or inability to work. The healthcare provider purportedly refused to accommodate the employee and required her to involuntarily resign in lieu of termination.

"Employers must treat the work restrictions of pregnant employees just like those of non-pregnant employees," said EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes. "Companies must be careful not to violate federal antidiscrimination law when they pick and choose which employees to accommodate."