$140,000 Jury Verdict for Race Harassment Victims Upheld
DALLAS - AA Foundries, a San Antonio manufacturer of ferrous castings and producer of foundry mold machines, has agreed to drop its appeal of a racial harassment judgment for $140,000 and resolve the case with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. The settlement comes 2 ½ years after the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office first filed suit.
The EEOC's lawsuit (Civil Action No. 11-CV-792 filed on Sept. 23, 2011 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas) had charged AA Foundries with racially harassing its African-American employees in violation of federal law.
During a three-day trial in September 2012, a federal jury heard evidence that the AA Foundries superintendent, the top plant official, not only used the "N- word" himself, but admitted that it did not bother him that derogatory racial slurs were commonly heard in the workplace. The superintendent also called adult African-American male employees "mother-f------g boys," posted racially-tinged written material in the break room, and routinely slandered black employees, 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 superintendent described such reports as "B.S." and stated the noose "was no big deal" and that "you people are too sensitive." One African-American employee testified at trial that he filed an EEOC complaint because he wanted his children to learn not to be prejudiced against others, and to keep others from being prejudiced against them in the workplace.
The jury found in favor of the three black male employees, Christopher Strickland, Leroy Beal and Kenneth Bacon, and awarded punitive damages that totaled $200,000. However, it found no liability regarding a black female employee, Kathy White. There are statutory caps on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages a person can recover. These caps vary depending on the size of the employer. Two of the three awards exceeded the cap, and those two awards were reduced to $50,000 each.
In addition to the jury awards, the court granted the EEOC's application for injunctive relief, and "permanently enjoined" AA Foundries from "engaging in any employment practice which facilitates, condones, or encourages a hostile work environment on the basis of race ..." and ordered the company to implement an effective Title VII policy prohibiting race-based discrimination and to disseminate it to all employees and to conduct one hour of Title VII training.
On Oct. 23, 2012, AA Foundries filed an appeal of the jury's verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Attorneys for EEOC Appellate Services - General Attorney Christine Back, and Assistant General Counsel Carolyn Wheeler - defended the favorable jury verdict on behalf of the three males, and also filed a cross-appeal on behalf of White. The company withdrew its appeal on March 7, 2012 and agreed to settle the case. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, AA Foundries agreed to pay Strickland $50,000, Beal $50,000 Bacon $40,000 and White $20,000. The company also agreed to comply with the injunctive relief ordered by the court.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
"I am pleased the resolution incorporated the full judgment," said EEOC General Counsel. David Lopez. "The jury, speaking as the conscience of the community, had sent a powerful message that racial discrimination is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this type of unlawful harassment persists, and the EEOC will continue to work to eliminate it once and for all."
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith G. Taylor added, "After two trials and one appeal, the very successful resolution of this case is a testament to the hard work and persistence of our attorneys in both the appellate services unit and the San Antonio Field Office."
In the past two months, the EEOC has had several cases involving severe racial harassment, including a $2.7 million settlement against an environmental clean-up company, and a harassment case in which a white employee was the victim. (For additional information see http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-27-12g.cfm.)
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.