Federal Agency Charged That Supervisors Sexually Harassed Class of Hispanic Female Employees, Then Fired Employees Who Supported Them
LOS ANGELES — An Irvine, Calif.-based pool supply company will pay $462,500 to resolve a sexual harassment, retaliation and constructive discharge lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged Aqua Tri, a supplier of pool sanitizing chemicals and other pool products, with subjecting a class of Hispanic employees to sexual harassment, retaliation for opposing it and forcing some of them out of their jobs.
According to the EEOC, a production supervisor and a shipping supervisor — both Hispanic males — subjected at least eight Hispanic female employees to a sexually hostile work environment which included inappropriate touching, pressuring them for dates and sex, and making sexually explicit remarks. The supervisors also dangled promotions as an incentive to pressure women to have sex with them.
Although a couple of the victims reported the harassment to a plant manager and a human resources manager, no actions were taken against the harassers, who continued to work at the site. Instead, the EEOC contends, one of the reporting victims was demoted and forced to resign in retaliation, while another was denied overtime work, isolated from her coworkers and required to do tasks outside of her job description such as cleaning the bathroom. The victims ultimately filed discrimination charges with the EEOC in 2008.
Several additional male Hispanic employees were either laid off or discharged following an Aqua Tri internal investigation in 2009 due to their perceived support of the victims’ claims, according to the EEOC. Although the company cited a “lack of work” for the layoffs, the EEOC found that the staff, which had good performance records, was replaced by new hires within just a couple of months.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC originally filed its lawsuit in September 2009 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (EEOC v. Aqua Tri and Pool Water Products, Case No. 09-CV-7062-GHK(VBKx) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Aside from the monetary relief, the three-year consent decree settling the suit requires Aqua Tri to establish and hire a Spanish-speaking human resources specialist and equal employment opportunity (EEO) consultant to assist with revising the company’s complaint policies and procedures with respect to the handling of harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace in both English and Spanish. Further, the company must establish a hotline to accept complaints from employees via telephone; train all employees on their rights under Title VII in both English and Spanish, with specialized training for supervisors; include compliance to EEO policies as a factor in the performance evaluations of supervisors; and report all complaints of harassment, discrimination and harassment to the EEOC.
“We commend Aqua Tri for implementing aggressive injunctive relief measures to ensure this will not happen again,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “It is important for employers to have effective mechanisms for complaints and to promptly take action. Policies and procedures also need to be understandable to workers who primarily communicate in languages other than English.”
Olophius E. Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, added, “All too often small businesses fail to have an effective policy, procedures or training in the language of the employees. I encourage small business owners to take advantage of the EEOC’s Small Business Initiative, wherein the EEOC provides resources for small businesses to understand their legal obligations with respect to harassment and discrimination in the workplace.”
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.