Intellectually Disabled Employee at Retail Giant's Akron Store Was Sexually Harassed and Then Fired for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
CLEVELAND - Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., part of the nation's largest retail chain, has agreed to pay $363,419 and commit to significant injunctive relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Wal-Mart violated federal law by allowing a co-worker to sexually harass Jamie Wells, an intellectually disabled employee at Walmart store #1911 in Akron, Ohio. The EEOC alleged that this harassment continued for several years, despite the knowledge of several members of store management. The store fired Wells shortly after she made a formal complaint about the harassment to management.
Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, and retaliation against persons who oppose discrimination, violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit on April 10, 2013 (No. 5:13-cv-795-SL) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
As part of the consent decree settling the suit, Wal-Mart will pay $363,419 to settle Wells' case. This amount constitutes full back pay and $295,000 in compensatory damages, which nearly approaches the $300,000 cap on such damages imposed by the 1991 Civil Rights Act. In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement requires Wal-Mart to provide sexual harassment training to managers at store #1911 and to human resources managers responsible for that store. The training will include instruction on how to prevent the sexual harassment of intellectually disabled employees, including by working with job coaches and vocational counselors who interact with Wal-Mart on behalf of such employees. Also as part of the settlement, the company must post a notice in the workplace explaining employee rights and employer obligations under Title VII, and it must submit reports to the EEOC during regular intervals throughout the decree's three-year duration.
"The EEOC has long played a leadership role in ensuring that civil rights laws have force to protect those often most vulnerable to discrimination," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "The injunction and strong training requirements of the agreement highlight the EEOC's critical law enforcement mission to ensure that the harassment does not recur."
Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office, which oversees Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, and portions of New Jersey and Ohio, said, "The EEOC guidelines and Supreme Court rulings make it crystal-clear that employers must be accountable for failure to take prompt and appropriate action to stop harassment and for punishing employees who complain about harassment. Ms. Wells was a loyal employee who had worked at Wal-Mart for 11 years, but her developmental disability made her vulnerable to predatory sexual behavior. The EEOC is here to protect the rights of people like her, and we are pleased that Wal-Mart has come forward, at an early stage, to resolve this matter without the need for further litigation."
EEOC District Director Spencer Lewis added, "In addition to providing a substantial amount of monetary relief to the victim, the settlement puts mechanisms in place to help prevent this type of discrimination in the future. By monitoring the employer for the next three years, the EEOC will be in a position to act quickly should discrimination or retaliation recur at this workplace."
Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., of Bentonville, Ark., operates Wal-Mart's retail stores in the Eastern United States.
Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at www.eeoc.gov.