HOUSTON – The owners of the Planet Ford car dealership on Highway 45N in Spring / North Houston will pay $160,000 to settle a class sexual harassment, age discrimination and race discrimination case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
In its lawsuit (Civil Action No. 4:09-cv-03096 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division), the agency had charged that Autotainment Partners Limited Partnership and Worldwide Autotainment, Inc. violated federal law by subjecting a male auto salesman, as well as another male employee, to age discrimination and sexual harassment by their male supervisor. One employee also alleged that his supervisor subjected him to race discrimination, and both claimants alleged they were retaliated against for complaining about the supervisor’s unlawful conduct.
According to the EEOC, the harassment and discrimination included comments of a sexual nature and taunts by the supervisor that the original complainant, who is heterosexual, was engaging in homosexual activities. The supervisor also threatened the complainant, who is white, that the supervisor would “get back at” him for the “terrible things whites had done to blacks” in the past.
The supervisor also repeatedly berated the complainant for being “too old” for the job and “washed up” in the industry. In addition, the supervisor repeatedly sabotaged his work efforts, including discarding unfinished paperwork related to his sales. The other class member was also subjected to discrimination based on his age and to sexual harassment by the same supervisor.
Both employees complained to management about the supervisor’s harassment, verbally and in writing, but nothing was done by Planet Ford to put a stop to the conduct, the EEOC said. Because of the continued harassment and the lack of action by Planet Ford to alleviate the situation, the complainant was forced to transfer out of the supervisor’s department to a lesser-paying position. Ultimately, after the harassment continued unabated, he was forced to quit. The class member was ultimately fired following his complaints.
Sexual harassment, race discrimination and retaliation (for complaining about discrimination or harassment) violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Age discrimination also violates federal statute – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Constructive discharge, i.e, being forced to quit one’s job because of such harassment or discrimination, is also illegal. The EEOC filed suit against after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement and compliance.
The settlement terms, set forth in a consent decree signed and entered by U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr., require Autotainment Partners Limited Partnership and Worldwide Autotainment, Inc. to pay $160,000 in relief to compensate the two individuals. The decree also contains provisions to ensure that the owners and managers of these entities are properly trained to fully comply with employment discrimination laws. In addition, the two defendants are required to enforce policies and procedures for addressing illegal discrimination in the workplace, as well as guidelines for investigating complaints of discrimination.
“This settlement demonstrates that harsh treatment against workers because of their age and/or race, whether they are white or members of other races, will be aggressively opposed by the EEOC,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including the two at issue in the lawsuit against Planet Ford. Anyone who believes he or she has been subjected to a discriminatory employment practice is encouraged to contact the EEOC’s Houston District Office, which is located in downtown Houston on the sixth floor of the Mickey Leland Federal Building at 1919 Smith Street. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.