Physician Outsourcing Group Fired Women for Complaining About Misconduct, Federal Agency Charges
DALLAS -- A provider of physician services that has contracts with hospitals in over 40 states violated federal law by subjecting a female employee to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC also charged that the company unlawfully fired the woman and two co-workers in retaliation for their complaints.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit against Dallas-based EmCare, Inc., executive assistant Gloria Stokes was subjected to sexually explicit remarks from the CEO of one of EmCare's divisions throughout her employment. The EEOC said that this behavior included comments about female employees' breasts, derogatory references to women and sexual jokes. Stokes did not have an effective outlet for complaining about the misconduct because she had heard members of the human resources department stating that they did not want employees coming to them with complaints. Stokes was fired shortly after she told the harasser that she did not believe his conduct was appropriate.
In addition to Stokes’ charges, the EEOC also alleged in its lawsuit that EmCare retaliated against two other employees who complained to the human resources department about the inappropriate sexual comments and behavior of the division CEO. Very shortly after lodging their complaints with human resources, these individuals were terminated. The EEOC maintains that they were fired in retaliation for their opposition to the sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 3:11-cv-02017-P in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and front pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief to ensure that no further harassment will occur there.
“This is the kind of situation in which liability for violations of Title VII can mushroom because of the employer’s own actions,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “Attempts to sweep discrimination under the carpet by removing witnesses from the workplace can be a costly strategy if the EEOC finds the victims when the dust finally settles.”
EEOC Trial Attorney Meaghan Shepard said, “Too often it seems that people in positions of power believe that they can behave however they wish with impunity. In this instance, not only was the bad actor able to conduct himself in a sexually inappropriate fashion, but the company stifled the voices of those employees who chose to speak out in opposition to his unlawful conduct. All employees in the work force have the right under federal law to complain about behavior that they believe to be against the law without subsequently facing discipline or termination.”
In Fiscal Year 2010, 11,717 sexual harassment charges were filed with the EEOC and state and local anti-discrimination agencies.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.