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.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently presented awards to outstanding worker training programs throughout the country in five key areas. These categories include:
Helping young people who are out of school
Collaborating with industry to create a workforce investment program
Leveraging partnerships between employers, educators and economic development agencies
Creating a highly-trained 21st century workforce
Training workers with special needs
This year’s big winners include groups from Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin. Runners-up for the awards include agencies and companies from Michigan, Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, New York, Louisiana and Minnesota.
The Recognition of Excellence awards go to the top talent development programs nationwide. This week, Assistant Secretary of Labor Emily Stover DeRocco presented the awards during the Workforce Innovations Conference. Stover DeRocco heads the department’s division of Employment and Training. This is the fourth consecutive year the awards have been used to recognize outstanding training programs in state and local government, private business, education and economic development programs. Each award represents a collaboration between two or more of those key players.
“Our honorees have shown that they are innovative leaders in providing workers with the opportunities and tools to help them compete in today’s global economy,” said DeRocco. “Their outstanding work serves as a model for others to learn from and apply to their own regional economic and talent development strategies.”
The first category is “Educating America’s 21st Century Workforce”, recognizing the top program for providing innovative and effective strategies to prepare workers for jobs requiring better skills. The winner is the Alpena Community College of Alpena, Michigan. Honorable Mentions in this category include the Junior College District of Kansas City, Missouri and the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Beaverton, Oregon.
The award for “Building an Industry/Business-Driven Workforce Investment System” goes to the program that best responds to an industry need while preparing workers for continued job growth. This award goes to Capital Workforce Partners, of Hartford Connecticut. Honorable mentions in this category include the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth’s Bureau of Workforce Programs statewide. An Honorable Mention also went to the Gulf Coast Workforce Board: the WorkSource in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas.
The third category recognizes the value of collaborations between employers, educators and economic development leaders. The e3 Partnership award goes to Eastern Kentucky C.E. P. Inc. of Hazard, Kentucky. The runner up in this category is the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The fourth category is “Recognizing the Demographics of the Workforce”. This award highlights agencies or organizations that target workers with special needs. Winners in this category provide services to workers with limited English skills, to migrant farm workers, and those who are homeless as well as others. The top award in this category goes to Experience Works, Inc. of Arlington Virginia. Honorable mentions go to the Shoreline Community College in Shoreline Washington and the Center for Employment Opportunities in New York, N.Y.
The final category is “Serving Out-of-School Youth”. Winners in this category demonstrate innovative techniques in collaborating with educators, businesses, industry and other essential partners to train, educate and hire young people who are out of school. The award goes to Workforce Connections, Inc. of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Other notable programs in this category include the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the River Paris WIA Program in Convent, Louisiana.
All of the awards were presented at a gala ceremony during the Workforce Innovations Conference, an annual event that provides an opportunity for networking on workforce issues between stakeholders in the public and private sectors.
As the population ages, healthcare is the single fastest-growing field in the U.S. Eight of the 20 fastest-growing jobs are in the healthcare industry. About 13.1 million workers are currently employed in the field…and that number is only expected to grow. In addition, the healthcare industry currently provides jobs for about half a million self-employed individuals.
About 19% of the new jobs created by 2014 will be in the healthcare field, according to experts at the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s why federal grants for workers in Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, New York, Michigan and Connecticut are good news.
“The healthcare industry is predicted to grow at a rate of 27% between 2002 and 2012, adding 3.5 million new jobs,” according to Emily Stover DeRocco, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training.
Many of the jobs in this fast-growing field are for technicians and healthcare providers with just 1 to 2 years of training after high school. It’s true that the job market for highly-trained doctors and nurses is increasing rapidly…but so are healthcare jobs that require much less training.
As baby boomers age, there will be increased demand in this field, especially for long-term care for seniors and the chronically ill.
“Our aging population is placing great demands on our health care system. Long-term care professionals, in particular, are in great need and these grants will help our nation’s workers acquire the skills to fill this need and develop promising careers in this field,” said Secretary Elaine Chao said in announcing these grants.
These highly-coveted grants were awarded to just 6 of the 77 organizations that competed. Each award is for about $500,000, to train workers for careers in long-term care.
Training is a boon for American workers. While unemployment hovers around 5% nationwide, highly-trained workers have unemployment rates of just 1.9% throughout the country as a whole.
That’s why Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently announced an award of $6 million to a handful of organizations that prepare workers for careers in long-term care.
The awards support a number of activities at different sites. These include:
- Developing a certified nursing assistant (CNA) track at a popular college
- Delivering on-the-job training in the healthcare field
- Preparing community college students to advance “up the nursing career ladder”
- Implementing both credential and certification programs in the industry
- Implementing a direct care worker career pathway
According to sources at the U.S. Department of Labor, these programs and others will provide talent development solutions that are industry-driven. Even more important, the programs will address the challenges looming in the long-term care sector, where qualified employees are increasingly in demand, and hard to find.
These grants totaling almost $3 million will help develop regional efforts to create pools of qualified workers that the long-term care industry can draw upon.
“America’s aging population is creating demand for the professional development of highly skilled long-term care providers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco. “Today’s awards will allow grantees to combine the strengths of public and private sector partners implementing education programs, and will create a pipeline of workers to meet the needs of the long-term care industry.”
Among the elite programs capturing awards in this program are the prestigious program at the Capital Workforce Partners of North Central Connecticut. Another coveted grant went to the Mississippi Hospital Association Health Research & Educational Foundation. The University of Alaska in Anchorage was also the recipient of a grant.
Additional grants were awarded to the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. The New England states received a grant in the form of an award to the Workforce Investment Boards of Herkimer, Madison and Oneida Counties in New York. The final award went to Neosho Community College in Eastern Kansas.
All of these organizations will be increasing promising talent development practices and tools that are already in place to train healthcare workers for the future.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is attempting to locate a number of workers who participated in post-Katrina renovations or repairs in Louisiana and Mississippi. The workers are entitled to back pay from sub-contractors on the projects. The projects involve work done at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport or the Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Anyone who believes that they are owed back wages for these projects can contact the nearest U.S. Department of Labor office.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division recently recovered nearly $1.6 million in back wages for workers in Mississippi and Louisiana due to violations of the Davis-Bacon Act and other federal regulations. The funds will go directly to some 2,600 employees who were involved in the renovation and repair of U.S. naval bases at Gulfport, Mississippi and Belle Chasse, Louisiana in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The awards average about $616 per worker.
Although Mississippi and Louisiana are two of the five U.S. states with no minimum wage, most workers in these states are protected by the federal minimum wage laws.
“This administration is committed to ensuring that workers are paid all the wages they have earned,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “We have recovered nearly $1.5 million for the workers who’ve been involved in the cleanup and restoration of these naval facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina damage.”
The workers were employed by 107 different subcontractors all hired by KBR Inc., a company based in Virginia. In every case, the work was performed under a federal contract. Under the terms of most federal contracts, all wages paid must conform to a number of federal standards including the Service Contract Act (SCA), the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (CWHSSA) and the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA).
Both the SCA and the Davis-Bacon Act require that subcontractors pay the local prevailing wage rate and benefits on federal service and construction contracts. In addition, the CWHSSA sets standards for overtime pay for workers involved in federal contracts. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found the 107 sub-contractors in violation of all these laws.
After an investigation, the Wage and Hour Division found that 107 different subcontractors involved in the projects had failed to pay required wages and fringe benefits. In some cases, the contractors also neglected to pay overtime when employees worked more than 40 hours per week. The agency determined that 2,623 workers at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport and the Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse were due approximately $1,475,000 in back wages.
KBR Inc. and many of its subcontractors cooperated with the Labor Department’s investigation to ensure that all employees who were due back wages were compensated. Of the total back wages, the subcontractors paid approximately $670,000 directly to the affected employees. The prime contractor, KBR, paid the balance of $800,000 to the U.S. Department of Labor for disbursement to the remaining workers.
Under a special taskforce created in 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has investigated and prosecuted a number of violations of federal minimum wage laws in the Gulf Coast. These violations occurred as contractors moved into the area to perform work after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The wide-ranging investigations have recovered wages for workers from Florida to Maine.
In one prominent case, a Houston-based tree trimming service was found to have violated federal law by not paying more than $1.8 million in overtime to 2,500 workers. The firm, which specializes in disaster clean-up near power lines, was found to have violated the law in 16 states, including Florida, Texas, Ohio, Arkansas, Maryland, Virginia, Maine, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
That probe began after a tip from an employee led to the discovery that the firm was violating the minimum wage law in the 16 states. It was also violating the FLSA, or federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The settlement covered the period from August 2004 to August 2006.
Employers should update their Mississippi USERRA posters to reflect new regulations by the U.S. Department of Labor. That will insure that returning military veterans and other employees will see what their rights are under the recently released regulations.
Veterans are protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994, otherwise known as USERRA. The regulations include not only veterans but also members of the National Guard and Reserve.
Veterans who are returning from active duty can get help processing claims under USERRA through the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, or VETS. The latest USERRA update makes federal government employees also eligible to receive help with their claims. VETS is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
USERRA essentially protects civilian job rights of veterans and the Army, Air Force and Navy Reserves for up to 5 years. The 5 years are cumulative. In short, the veteran is eligible even if those 5 years are served in blocks of 2 or 3 years at a time, for example.
More specifically, the USERRA regulations guarantee that employees returning from military duty get the same jobs, pay, and benefits they would have gotten if they had not served in the military, but instead had worked that same time in their old positions. The regulation has been supported by test cases. In those cases, the returnees received the promotions they would have gotten had they stayed with their jobs and not been called into military service. In short, their “seniority” was protected. Many returnees are entitled to cost-of-living hikes or pay increases under the same conditions.
According to the new regulations, as long as the basic criteria are met, a veteran’s job is protected regardless of the timing, frequency, nature, or duration of service.
There are exceptions to the 5-year rule, however. For example, returning veterans whose initial enlistment extended longer than 5 years is still eligible for job protection. Not included in the 5-year total is the periodic training time served by National Guard or Reserve members.