U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Company Subjected Black and Hispanic Employees to Harassment, Then Suspended and Fired Them for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Ricoh Americas Corporation has agreed to pay $125,000 and provide substantial additional relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for race and national origin and retaliation, the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged the company with subjecting an African employee to harassment because of his race and national origin and two Hispanic employees to harassment based on national origin at one of its work sites in Greensboro, N.C. The lawsuit further charged that Ricoh suspended and then fired all three employees for complaining about the harassment.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, James Nyema-Davies (black Liberian), Anibal Melendez (Puerto Rican) and Gustavo Tovar (Colombian) were subjected to offensive national origin- and race-based harassment, including derogatory comments by the site manager in their location. The harassment was ongoing from approximately June 2006 through October 2009, the EEOC said. On a daily or near-daily basis, the site manager made comments to the three employees such as stating that she “hated Puerto Ricans,” that “Hispanics are so stupid,” “Colombians are good for nothing except drugs,” and that “damn, f-----g Africans . . .ain’t worth s--t.”
The lawsuit alleged that the three employees complained about the harassment on multiple occasions between 2007 and 2009, both individually and as a group. Despite the complaints, the harassment continued, the EEOC said. The suit further alleged that around Oct. 30, 2009, the employees were suspended after making a final complaint to Ricoh’s management. About three days later, Ricoh fired all three.
Harassment based on national origin and race and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (EEOC v. Ricoh Americas Corporation, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-00743) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief to Nyema-Davies, Melendez and Tovar, Ricoh agreed to conduct employee training on its anti-harassment policy and make the policy available to all employees. The company will also report all harassment complaints of race or national origin harassment to the EEOC for the next two years.
“Race and national origin harassment include racial or ethnic slurs or other expressions of dislike for different racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes of the agency’s Charlotte District Office. “The EEOC is deeply committed to combating such harassment and holding employers or managers accountable if they ignore complaints or, even worse, punish the complainants.”
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Tina Burnside added, “Federal law protects employees who oppose discrimination, including verbal and written complaints to employers. Employers have a duty under Title VII to address such complaints and not punish the individuals for complaining.”
According to company information, Tokyo-based Ricoh sells and services copiers, fax machines, printers, and related supplies such as paper, toner and software for the machines. Ricoh also provides onsite administrative services to companies such as mail processing, mail distribution and copier services. Ricoh Americas Corporation, based in West Caldwell, N.J., had fiscal year 2010 sales in excess of $23 billion.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.