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PRESS RELEASE
4-13-10

4-13-10

Left to right: Victor Cortez, EEOC Attorneys: Guy Knoller, Veronica Molina, and Meenoo Chahbazi

Cannon & Wendt to Pay $100,000 to Settle EEOC National Origin Discrimination / Retaliation Suit

PHOENIX -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that it has settled a national origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., Inc., one of the oldest and largest electrical contractors operating in Phoenix, Ariz., for $100,000 for Victor Cortez and a comprehensive consent decree, signed by Federal Judge Earl H. Carroll.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Phoenix, accusing Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., Inc. of discriminating against Victor Cortez when it subjected him to racist statements and then retaliated against him by terminating him after he complained about the unlawful discrimination.

According to the EEOC’s suit, EEOC v. Cannon & Wendt Electric, Co., Inc., CV-07-1710 PHX/EHC, employee Victor Cortez was unlawfully harassed because of his national origin by his immediate supervisor, Mark Ghose. The harassment included comments by Ghose, such as “I hate all Mexicans,” “they are worthless,” and “I hate Mexican music.” It was also alleged that Ghose openly stated his belief that Cortez was “useless” and he wanted to “get rid of him.” The EEOC also alleged that when Cortez complained to Cannon & Wendt’s then owner, Albert Wendt, Wendt failed to take any action except to ask “so, what do you want me to do about it?” The national origin harassment continued after Cortez’s complaints. Soon after he complained about the unlawful discrimination, Cannon & Wendt fired Cortez.

The EEOC obtained $100,000 for Cortez as damages for lost wages and benefits as well as compensation for the emotional distress. By entering into the consent decree, Cannon & Wendt agreed also to give Cortez an apology; subject Ghose to certain training; an injunction against national origin harassment and retaliation; reporting to the EEOC; the posting and distribution of a notice; change its anti-discrimination policies; and conduct extensive training for its supervisory and managerial workforce over the next three years.

Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix District Office, said, “Each of the statutes that the EEOC enforces contain a specific prohibition against retaliating against any employee or applicant who opposes discrimination internally or files a charge of discrimination with a state or federal agency. Because there is a significant imbalance of power between employee and employer, this office will continue to vigorously enforce the statutes’ anti-retaliation provisions through its investigations and litigation. In Victor Cortez’s case, we are satisfied that he has been compensated for the egregious manner in which he was unlawfully treated.”

Janet Elizondo, acting director for the Phoenix District Office, said, “Title VII provides that employees, including Victor Cortez, are entitled to work and keep their dignity. No employee should ever have to sacrifice his or her identity in order to keep a job. This employer not only ignored Mr. Cortez’s rights to be free from discrimination, but also fired him because he complained about the unlawful discrimination. This is a particularly troubling case because the EEOC sued this particular employer for religious discrimination a few years ago. After being sued, most employers take their EEO obligations under the law seriously. It is troubling to the EEOC to see a repeat offender.”

EEOC Trial Attorney Veronica Molina said, “Cannon & Wendt’s treatment of Mr. Cortez was outrageous. If the company had not settled, this would have been a very good case for a punitive damages request from a jury.”

Cortez said, “I am very thankful to the EEOC for fighting for me. What happened to me was wrong. No one should have to experience what I did in order to support my family.”

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.