Hill Brothers Construction of Oxford, Mississippi recently agreed to pay $225,000 for sexual harassment by men, against men. The EEOC sued the company in an unusual same-sex suit, on behalf of a number of male employees. The company’s formal name is the Hill Brothers Construction Company and Engineering Company, Inc.
The EEOC charged that Hill Brothers discriminated against three male employees by subjecting them to a sexually hostile work environment. After a one-week trial, the jury awarded $75,000 each to Scott Beasley, Joel Graves and Douglas Smith as punitive damages in the case. The case was heard before Judge Michael P. Mills of the U.S. District Court.
Hill Brothers is a full-service construction company that has bid on public and private work. The firm has also submitted bids for civil work as well as defense contracts for the Army Corps of Engineers. They are licenses in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.
The three men worked as truck drivers for Hill Brothers. All were hired between September 1999 and August 2001. The trio complained of sexual harassment from Gregg Witt beginning in 2001. The EEOC charged that the sexual harassment was severe, pervasive and included sexually offensive comments, as well as unwanted and inappropriate touching.
The employees complained, but since both they and the offender were male, the company did nothing.
EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas said, “Employers need to heighten their awareness of discrimination and take the appropriate action to address and correct it. There is simply no excuse for an employer’s failure to remedy pervasive sexual harassment and physical assault of employees who have complained repeatedly to management. We strongly encourage Mississippi employers to take notice that discrimination is a costly practice and early prevention makes a better, more productive workplace.”
“We are pleased with the jury verdict and believe the male victims in this case were vindicated,” said Senior EEOC Trial Attorney Valerie Hicks-Powe, who led the federal agency’s litigation efforts. “Employers must take all complaints of harassment seriously, regardless of the gender of the parties involved.”
This case is not over yet. The EEOC is still requesting that the court consider additional damages and injunctive relief to prevent Hill Brothers from similar actions.
EEOC Birmingham District C. Emanuel Smith noted: “Some employers may view male-on-male harassment as ‘horseplay’ or ‘boys being boys’ but this kind of intentional discrimination can cause needless suffering and permanent scars for employees,” said EEOC Birmingham District Chief Emanuel Smith. He added, “ – not to mention creating liability issues for employers who violate federal law.”
Most of us think of sexual discrimination as actions against women, but this lawsuit shows that in some workplaces, there is sexual harassment of men, by men. And, that number is growing every year.
In 1997, just 11.6% of sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC were from men. In 2006, that number had jumped to 15.4%, a 33% increase. Overall, the EEOC had 12,025 sexual harassment complaints in 2006. The EEOC recovered $48.8 million in out-of-court settlements in those cases. It is the EEOC’s policy to investigate each complaint thoroughly. If the EEOC finds reasonable cause for the complaint, they will file a suit. The EEOC makes every effort to settle the suit out of court, to save the taxpayers the cost of litigation. Most companies agree to out-of-court settlements, although this one did not.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in hiring, training, wages, working conditions, discipline, promotion or termination based on race, color, sex, religion or country of national origin. The vase majority of sexual harassment cases that the agency takes on are for harassment against women.
Three employers in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have settled separate lawsuits with the EEOC for an amount totaling $454,000. Under the suits brought by the EEOC, all three companies were accused of racial bias.
In a class action case against Pemco Aeroplex, the Birmingham, Alabama aerospace and defense company, the EEOC alleged that nooses, swastikas and other threatening symbols created a hostile work environment for African American workers. The company provides aircraft maintenance and modification services for government and the military.
The other two cases settled involved Ryan’s Restaurant Group, Inc. and Renal Care Group, Inc.
In the larges of the three settlements, Pemco Aeroplex will pay $390,000 in addition to changing its policies on workplace discrimination. According to the EEOC, the suit was based on 36 separate discrimination charges filed since 1998. After an investigation, the EEOC charged that since 1995 Pemco had engaged in a patter of race discrimination by subjecting them to racial slurs, epithets and racially offensive graffiti. The graffiti included Ku Klux Klan symbols.
In addition to the payment, the settlement requires Pemco to change its policies concerning racial harassment and retaliation. This includes training all employees in preventing racial harassment annually. The company will also institute new complaint procedures, and introduce preventative measures. Pemco will also provide team building and diversity training, and conduct surveys to determine the effectiveness of these measures.
The EEOC’s suit against Pemco was dismissed, but reinstated on appeal. Some Pemco employees had filed a separate suit against Pemco, which was settled in 2002. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to discriminate against workers based on race, color, religion, sex, or country of origin.
“Despite what some may think, overt racial harassment of African Americans still occurs in workplaces more than 40 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. “In addition to the severe types of race discrimination witnessed in these cases, the EEOC also is seeing more subtle forms of bias against people of color – which is why we recently launched the E.RACE Initiative.”
In a second case, Ryan’s Restaurant Group of Jasper, Alabama agreed to pay $41,000 to a former employee who is black. The suit charges that the employer created and condoned a racially hostile work environment at its restaurant. This included a display of hangman’s nooses by the restaurant manager.
When the Ryan’s employee complained about the nooses, he was fired in retaliation. Under Title VII, employers are not allowed to take any retaliatory action against employees who lodge a complaint with the EEOC. This includes changing the employee’s working conditions or pay, disciplining them or firing them.
Ryan’s Restaurant Group has its headquarters in Greer, South Carolina. The company operates more than 340 Ryan’s and Fire Mountain restaurants in 23 states in the South and Midwest. The company employs over 23,000 people and serves 110 million customers each year. As part of this settlement, Ryan’s will institute anti-discrimination training.
The third suit settled was with Renal Care Group, Inc. of Jackson, Mississippi. The EEOC alleges that Renal Care discriminated against an African American manager and fired her when she complained about the discrimination. Under the settlement, the company will pay the employee $21,000.
“Each of these lawsuits addressed the mistreatment of blacks in the workplace based solely on their race,” said EEOC Attorney C. Emanuel Smith, of the Birmingham office. “The Commission will continue to identify issues, criteria and barriers that contribute to race and color discrimination.”
All of the companies in this article deny any wrongdoing.
More often than not there are both federal and state regulations in place to monitor and enforce discrimination in the workplace. Employees should be free to work in an environment absent any harassment or discrimination. Most states have established their own rules about what is acceptable behavior and what constitutes unlawful employment practices. Usually there is a state agency or department dedicated to enforcing these regulations and a person could go to them with questions or concerns about a harassment or discrimination issue. Mississippi is one of few states that has no such department, in fact they do not have any laws of their own that address discrimination in the workplace.
Employers are however required to follow federal regulations and must abide by federal anti-discrimination laws. These would be the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). These standards have been adopted as Mississippi (MS) job discrimination law in the workplace and make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. Unfortunately the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees and the ADEA requires at least 20 employees. These laws protect workers in all aspects of employment including recruitment, testing, hiring, compensation, promotion, pay and termination.
In my research I did find that there is a group of individuals who developed the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights. It is a worker advocacy program that offers services such as legal representation and training for low wage, non-union workers.
They also offer support to those that feel have had their rights violated and direct them as to how to go about filing a complaint. Currently in Mississippi you would contact the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to file such a complaint. They are also pushing for independent Mississippi (MS) job discrimination law in the workplace.
When looking for information on the Mississippi sexual discrimination law in the workplace, I found that the State of Mississippi does not have its own state laws concerning sexual discrimination in the workplace. Instead it follows the federal law and Title VII.
This means that any employer (defined as by federal law as being anyone who has fifteen or more employees) must know and understand Title VII to keep the workplace free of discrimination. This means they can give differing treatment to men and women based on their sex when it comes to decisions involving hiring and firing. The also cannot differ the job conditions, terms, privileges or compensation. The tricky part is that it not only covers overt discriminatory practices, but also unintentional job policies that might unfairly single out a specific gender. Employers also cannot discriminate against women who are pregnant or who have pregnancy-related conditions – both need to be treated as any other illness or short-term disability would be treated.
Employees in Mississippi can file claims against their employers with the EEOC providing they do so within 180 days of the alleged civil rights violation. Filing a complaint involves providing your information, your employer’s information and a detailed description of the violation.
Another issue covered by federal law is the Equal Pay Act. This ensures the men and women working for the same employer who have equal jobs in terms of conditions, skills, responsibility and effort will also receive the same pay. However, pay discrepancy is allowed due to seniority, merit or other system that does not include gender as a determining factor.
Complaints due to Equal Pay violations can go directly to the federal courts. You’ll need to contact a lawyer to find out what you need to do.
It’s important for employers and employees to know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. Employers also should keep posted a current Mississippi Labor Law Poster.
One of the key cases that many employers, workers and attorneys seem to be quite interested in is Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi. What is it about this case that brings it into discussions in several states across the country? I discovered that a group of 30 police officers and dispatchers, all 40 years old or more, challenged a pay system that gave higher percentage salary increases to officers and dispatchers with fewer years on the job. In addition, almost all those who got higher increases were under 40.
At the heart of this Mississippi case is the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967 to protect workers 40 and over from just such discrimination. Cases such as Smith v. City of Jackson have helped to amend and adjust the 40-year-old law. In March 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers over 40 could sue using the ADEA when an employer took action that had “disparate impact” on their age group. It is significant that, under the ruling, employees are not required to show that the employer intended to discriminate against older workers.
Okay, so what does disparate impact mean? According to the Supreme Court ruling, it means that the employer’s wage practices can seem “age-neutral” but still have a stronger impact on older workers. In addition to the protections and guidelines offered by federal laws such as ADEA and the Civil Rights Act, workers and employers in Mississippi have the state’s Department of Employment Security/Equal Opportunity Division as a resource.
If you are looking for help as a job seeker, the department offers veterans services, education and training assistance, and much more. If you are an employer wishing to locate in Mississippi, the department has business registration help, employee job training, job placement services, and other items on its menu. Mississippi emphasizes that equal employment opportunity is the law, and to make this work the state has a program called Methods of Administration. This special program is designed to ensure the department’s compliance with U.S. Department of Labor regulations and the federal laws pertaining to employers and workers.