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.
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.