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PRESS RELEASE
4-1-11

Judge Affirms $1 Million Judgment in EEOC Sex and Race Harassment Suit Against Whirlpool

NASHVILLE – A federal judge has affirmed a million-dollar judgment against Whirlpool Corporation in a sex and race harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the agency announced today.

Judge John T. Nixon denied Whirlpool Corporation’s motion to alter and/or amend the judgment of the court, entered on Dec. 21, 2009, that Whirlpool pay $1,073,261 in damages to the discrimination victim.

“This woman was victimized by serious, ongoing abuse, and was severely and permanently damaged as a result,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Faye Williams. “A sizeable amount of damages was called for, and we are pleased that the judge agreed.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit had charged that Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool violated federal law when it tolerated the harassment of Carlotta Freeman, an employee at a Whirlpool plant in LaVergne, Tenn., by a white male co-worker because of her race (black) and sex. The abuse lasted for two months, the EEOC said, until the co-worker physically assaulted Freeman and inflicted serious permanent injuries.

During the four-day trial, the court heard evidence that Freeman reported escalating offensive verbal conduct and gestures by the co-worker over a period of two months before he physically assaulted her. The court heard that four levels of Whirlpool’s management were aware of the escalating harassment, but that Whirlpool failed to take effective steps to stop it. Further, Freeman suffered devastating permanent mental injuries that will prevent her from working again as a result of the assault and Whirlpool’s failure to protect her. 

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 3:06-0593) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Following a bench trial, Judge Nixon awarded Freeman $773,261 in back pay and front pay, and $300,000 compensatory damages for non-pecuniary injuries.

On Jan. 15, 2010, Whirlpool requested that the court reduce the damages. The corporation claimed that the court had erred when, among other things, it awarded front and back pay without considering the fact that the plant where Freeman worked had closed. Whirlpool also claimed the court erred when it relied on certain information from Freeman’s expert witness.

In denying Whirlpool’s motion, Judge Nixon noted that it had “wide discretion to make whole the victim of unlawful discrimination.” For that reason, the court “declines to find that failing to so cut off the award of front pay to Freeman constitutes a clear error of law or manifest injustice.” 

Carlota Freeman intervened in the case and was represented by Nashville attorneys Helen Rogers and Andy Allman.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.