East Indian Guard Mocked for Turban, Accent and Age, Federal Agency Charges
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- One of the world’s largest security firms violated federal law when it failed to stop co-worker harassment of a guard concerning his national origin and age, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. According to the EEOC, Guardsmark not only ignored the employee’s reports of harassment, but retaliated against him with an involuntary transfer.
The EEOC’s investigation determined that Inderpal Nayyar, who worked as a security guard for Guardsmark in San Jose, faced constant harassment regarding his East Indian national origin and his age (66 years old at the time). For example, his co-worker repeatedly ridiculed Nayyar’s turban and accent and told Nayyar “you’re too old” and “you need to retire.” Nayyar made numerous complaints to supervisors, but Guardsmark took no action to address the harassment, the EEOC said. Instead, Nayyar was involuntarily transferred, which ultimately led to a reduction of his hours and lost benefits. Nayyar ultimately resigned from Guardsmark.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers have a legal obligation to stop discrimination based on national origin and age. Both laws also strictly prohibit retaliation against workers who report discrimination. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 11-03190PSG in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California – San Jose) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The suit seeks back pay and other monetary losses, compensatory and punitive damages for Nayyar and appropriate injunctive relief to prevent any future discrimination.
“The law is very clear: all employees have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation and ridicule,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. “Employers have a duty to respond promptly and adequately to reports of discrimination. Those who choose to ignore harassment or respond with retaliation will be held accountable in court by the EEOC.”
Nayyar, a naturalized U.S. citizen of East Indian descent, said, “When I told my managers about the harassment, nothing happened, and then, worse yet, I suffered retaliation for speaking out. All I wanted was to be able to do my job in peace. I am thankful that the EEOC has taken my case.”
EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado noted, “Punishing the employee who speaks out will only multiply your problems. First, you are failing in your legal obligation to investigate and stop harassment. Second, you add the new offense of illegal retaliation. Third, you send a message to your entire work force that an employee complains at his or her own peril. A workplace where employees are afraid to speak out against harassment can evolve into a toxic environment where harassment becomes the norm.”
Baldonado noted that retaliation cases represent one of the fastest growing types of charges filed with the EEOC. In fiscal year 2010, retaliation charge filings across the country increased 6 percent over the last five years to a record 30,948 cases.
Guardsmark provides uniformed security personnel to businesses worldwide, with more than 150 offices throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, France and Singapore. Its headquarters and principal place of business is in New York City, and its administrative service center is based in Memphis, Tenn.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.