The EEOC recently reached a $20 million settlement in a race discrimination case with pharmacy giant Walgreen Co. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges that Walgreen denied promotions to black managers and pharmacists because of their race. Instead, according to the suit, Walgreen steered African-American employees into jobs at underperforming stores in predominantly black neighborhoods.
While the initial complaints concerned 20 employees in St. Louis, Tampa, Detroit and Kansas City, the court soon made this a class-action suit with over 10,000 plaintiffs. EEOC sources say that Walgreen engaged in similar practices nationwide against African-American employees.
The suit was combined with a 2003 suit alleging similar violations, to form a class action suit with 10,000 or more plaintiffs.
After settling the Walgreen suit for $20 million, EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp had conciliatory words for the retail giant. “We commend Walgreen for working cooperatively with us to reach an amicable settlement of this case without protracted litigation.” Earp said, “We believe this is a satisfactory resolution for all parties.”
Walgreen denies the allegations made in both suits.
Walgreens’ CEO, Jeffrey A. Rein, said, “We are pleased to reach a resolution that is consistent with our past and future diversity and equal opportunity objectives. Our company was built on principles of fairness and equality, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any aspect of employment including store assignment, compensation and promotion opportunities. In fact, we’re a drugstore industry leader when it comes to the employment and promotion of African American managers and pharmacists.”
The Walgreen attorneys added, “Walgreens is a rapidly growing company with lots of opportunity for its employees. We look forward to working with Walgreens to promote fair and equal employment opportunities for all employees.”
The suit against Walgreen sought back pay for the employees plus compensation for “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation.” It also seeks an injunction barring Walgreen from engaging in further discrimination.
This is just one in a series of settlements for race discrimination this year.
Earlier this year, Quietflex Manufacturing Company, L.P. recently paid $2.8 million for discriminating against Hispanic employees. The lawsuit alleges that 78 Latino employees were discriminated against in the company’s transfer policies, and in pay.
Quietflex produces flexible air conditioning ducts and components. The company has repeatedly denied all wrongdoing in the case.
According to the suit, the company denied Hispanic employees higher-paying jobs in departments with better working conditions. After a work stoppage to protest the discrimination, the EEOC alleges that Quietflex illegally retaliated against the employees by terminating them. All the employees were rehired shortly afterward.
In January, Target Corp. paid $775,000 for racial harassment to settle a suit. The suit alleged that Target Violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a racially hostile work environment at the Springfield, Pennsylvania Target store.
In the suit, the EEOC said that Michael Hill was an apprentice in training to become a store manager. He was subjected to racial harassment by a white store manager. When Hill complained, he was retaliated against, leaving him no choice but to resign.
Target operates more than 1,500 stores in 47 states, including 175 SuperTarget stores. As part of the settlement, Target agreed to train employees at the Springfield store.
“We are pleased that the parties could reach an amicable resolution of this matter,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jacqueline McNair. “We expect the proposed training and emphasis on anti-discrimination policies to create a more employee-friendly work environment at Target’s facility.”
Title VII makes it illegal to deny a person any employment opportunity because of that person’s race or color, sex, religion or national origin. A work environment free from illegal harassment and different treatment based on race are included in the range of such employment opportunities. In addition, Title VII recognizes that persons made to work in an intolerable environment may be constructively discharged, or compelled to resign their employment. Finally, it is illegal to retaliate against someone because he has made a complaint of illegal discrimination.
The question that I have been getting from a lot of employers about this new hire reporting process is all about the time frame. We all know, after me telling it to you over and over for the past few days, that the original federal law behind this new hire reporting came about in 1996. And after that, in the following couple years, every state in the Union followed suit by passing a similar law in their state legislatures. So usually these laws came about in the state level in 1997 or in 1998.
In Michigan, for instance, the law was put in effect on October 1, 1997. The question then from my employers has been: do we need to go back and report “new” hires that joined our company in 1996, say, or 1990. Back then, they were considered new hire (of course, they aren’t anymore), but does the law, in other words, have a retroactive effect.
The simple answer to that in Michigan, and I suspect in all or at least most states, is no. Michigan state only requires that employees that have been hired after the signing of the law in 1997 be reported. And as this point, hopefully all employers are caught up and only have to report those employees who are truly new to their organization.
Of course, as in most other states, the definition of what consists of a new employee in Michigan is pretty broad. It includes part timers and full timers, permanent employees and temporary employees. It even includes employees that you thought were going to be permanent but ended up quitting (or getting fired) before you even had the chance to report them as new hires. You still have to, even after they leave. Even new re-hires are to be reported.