Rite Way Fired Employee for Participating in Internal Investigation of Co-Worker's Sexual Harassment Claim, Federal Agency Charges
JACKSON, Miss. -- Rite Way Service, Inc., an Alabama corporation that specializes in providing janitorial cleaning services to commercial facilities in Mississippi, violated federal law by firing an employee in unlawful retaliation for participating in a required internal investigation concerning a sexual harassment complaint submitted by a coworker, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed on June 27, 2013.
According to the lawsuit, Rite Way employed Mekeva Tennort between 2009 and 2011 to perform janitorial duties at Biloxi Junior High School. In August 2011, Tennort gave a statement to supervisors investigating a complaint by another employee who had alleged sexually offensive conduct. Following Tennort's participation in the campus police investigation, a manager for Rite Way explained to Tennort that Rite Way needed her written statement. Afterward, Rite Way is alleged to have documented negative, unsubstantiated performance incidents involving concerning Tennort. On September 26, 2011, Rite Way terminated Tennort.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who has participated in any manner in an investigation under Title VII, including an employer's internal investigation. The EEOC filed suit [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Rite Way Service, Inc., Southern District of Mississippi Federal Court 3:13-cv-00407-CWR-FKB] after first attempting to resolve the matter informally through its conciliation process.
Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director for the EEOC's Birmingham District, said, "Title VII protects employees against retaliation. Its protection includes employees who have not complained themselves, but who participate in internal employment investigations of sexual harassment. The Commission is committed to making retaliation less of an obstacle to full exercise of the rights guaranteed by Title VII."
"Unfortunately, retaliation claims accompany far too many complaints of Title VII discrimination. The Commission is dedicated to enforcing Title VII and to preventing retaliation against those who oppose unlawful practices," said C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the EEOC's Birmingham District Office.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC's Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .