EEOC Sued After Superintendent Frequently Used Racially Derogatory Terms, Hanging Noose Found at Worksite; Order Follows Jury Verdict of $200,000
SAN ANTONIO -- A federal judge has ordered AA Foundries, Inc., a local San Antonio manufacturer of ferrous castings and producer of foundry mold machines, to implement extensive measures to prevent racial harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today. The EEOC had charged in the underlying lawsuit that African-American employees at AA Foundries routinely experienced racially offensive treatment. The order follows a jury award of $200,000 in punitive damages to three former employees of AA Foundries.
The jury had found that AA Foundries subjected three African-American employees to a racially hostile work environment, and that the highest ranking official at AA Foundries' San Antonio plant, Superintendent Ronnie Hunt, acted with malice or reckless indifference to the rights of the workers not to be subjected to insults and intimidation. Subsequently, on October 9, 2012, the court granted the EEOC's post-trial request for a permanent injunction against future discrimination.
"We are very pleased with the court's decision, which will protect employees from future harassment or discrimination," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "We hope this judgment serves as a wake-up call for employers who ignore or condone this kind of behavior in the workplace."
The judge and jury heard testimony at trial that Superintendent Hunt not only used the "N" word, but also called adult African-American male employees "mother-f---g boys," posted racially-tinged written material in the break room, and routinely slandered them referring to them as "you people" and accusing African-Americans of always stealing and wanting welfare. After several employees filed racial harassment charges with the EEOC, a noose was displayed at the AA Foundries workplace. In response to employee complaints about this noose, the superintendant described such reports as "BS" and stated the noose "was no big deal" and that the complainants were "too sensitive."
On the witness stand, Hunt denied that racial harassment occurred at AA Foundries, and maintained that AA Foundries had done nothing wrong. He also admitted that it did not bother him to hear racially derogatory language at the plant. At the time, there was no effective company policy to address racial harassment according to the EEOC. Hunt's testimony and the lack of procedures for complaints compelled the EEOC to petition the district court for an injunction to address these policy deficiencies.
Racial harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC filed suit against AA Foundries in 2011 in U.S.
District Court for the District of Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division (EEOC v. AA Foundries, Inc., Civil Action Number 5:11-cv-792).
Stating that "the Court is convinced that injunctive relief is necessary in this case," U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth granted the EEOC's request and issued an order permanently enjoining AA Foundries from engaging in any employment practice which facilitates, condones, or encourages a hostile work environment based on race, or from engaging in any other employment practice which discriminates on the basis of race. Adopting most of the EEOC's proposals, the court further ordered that AA Foundries must develop a policy and procedures for handling reports of racial harassment; develop an effective investigation process for all complaints of racial harassment; distribute a written policy and provide equal employment opportunity training to all employees, including managerial employees. The EEOC will monitor compliance with the judge's order.
"Today, the court has affirmed the importance for all employers to have effective policies and procedures in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace," said Judith G. Taylor, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office. "A strong policy, meaningful training and a swift response to complaints are a company's most effective tools for addressing an existing hostile work environment or to prevent one from arising. The Judge's order will go a long way toward protecting AA Foundries' employees from harassment."
Eduardo Juarez, senior trial attorney in San Antonio, said, "While we are able to resolve most of our litigation through settlement, this case illustrates the EEOC's commitment to litigating cases when necessary to vindicate the public interest. The objective of every EEOC case, whether large or small, is the same: to make equal employment opportunity the reality in the workplace."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.