Court Grants EEOC’s Request to Order Company to Provide Back Pay Without I-9 Form, Gives Federal Agency Say in Selecting Anti-Discrimination Instructor
PHOENIX -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that a federal court has granted in part the EEOC’s request that the court hold Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., Inc., in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of a consent decree settling a discrimination suit. The court ordered Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., Inc., to pay $20,000 in back pay to Victor Cortez, as previously agreed to by the company, rejecting the company’s demand that the discrimination victim submit a new I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) form as a precondition.
The court further ordered that Cannon & Wendt use an instructor approved by the EEOC in carrying out the training on national origin discrimination and retaliation as was also required by the decree.
The decree had been signed by the parties and entered and ordered by the court to resolve the EEOC’s national origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the company. According to the EEOC’s suit, EEOC v. Cannon & Wendt Electric, Co., Inc., CV-07-1710 PHX/EHC in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Phoenix, employee Victor Cortez was unlawfully harassed because of his Mexican national origin by his immediate supervisor, Mark Ghose. The harassment included comments by Ghose, such as “I hate all Mexicans,” and “(Mexicans) are worthless.” The lawsuit further alleges that Cannon & Wendt retaliated against Cortez by terminating him after he complained about the harassment.
Cannon & Wendt agreed to the terms of the consent decree and signed it in April 2010. The decree was submitted to the court by the EEOC and Cannon & Wendt and approved by the court on April 12.
Under its terms, Cannon & Wendt agreed to provide Cortez $100,000 as damages for lost wages and benefits as well as compensation for the emotional distress ($80,000 for compensatory damages and $20,000 in back pay), and also agreed to provide a letter of apology. By entering into the decree, Cannon & Wendt agreed also to subject Ghose to certain remedial training; to an injunction against national origin harassment and retaliation; to provide reporting to the EEOC; to post and distribute a notice; to change its anti-discrimination policies; and to conduct extensive training for its supervisory and managerial work force over the next three years.
However, Cannon & Wendt refused to pay the $80,000 in compensatory damages and issue the letter of apology until the EEOC filed the contempt action in court. Additionally, Cannon & Wendt refused to provide the back pay without receiving a new I-9 form from Cortez. The EEOC objected to the request for the new I-9 since Cortez is a permanent resident of the United States and is authorized to work in this country. Further, the EEOC pointed out, the company had already employed Cortez for nearly five years and he had given the company all of the appropriate documentation when he started work there.
“Cannon & Wendt’s demand that Cortez provide an I-9 can only be interpreted as another form of national origin harassment, given that Cortez is a permanent resident with the right to work here and had already worked for the company for almost five years with proper documentation,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, Regional Attorney for the Phoenix District Office.
Rayford O. Irvin, District Director of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, added, “Such a demand is not required or allowed by the law. We question whether Cannon & Wendt would have asked for this if Cortez were not from Mexico.”
The EEOC additionally objected to the instructor selected by Cannon & Wendt to conduct the training required under the consent decree. The EEOC alleged that the instructor Cannon & Wendt had selected, who is a manager for the company, had engaged in retaliation against Cortez. The court agreed with the EEOC that under the consent decree Cannon & Wendt must obtain the EEOC’s approval in selecting an instructor.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.