Staffing Agency Fired Laborers Because They Complained About Harassment, Federal Agency Says
PITTSBURGH - Labor Ready Mid-Atlantic, Inc., a Tacoma-Wash.-based labor staffing firm, violated federal law when it subjected two female laborers to sexual and racial harassment and then retaliated against them for complaining about it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Labor Ready assigned Crystal Cole and Fetema Johnson to work as laborers at a client's construction project in Metz, W.V. EEOC's lawsuit alleged that two male employees at the worksite subjected Cole and Johnson to sexual and racial harassment, including grabbing Cole's breasts, explicitly describing sexual acts they wanted to perform on Cole and Johnson, and throwing large roofing tiles at them, attempting to strike them. The federal agency says that one coworker told Johnson, who is biracial, "It's a shame you're black. What a waste." He also loudly played music containing racial epithets, despite Johnson's complaints.
The lawsuit further charges that Cole and Johnson complained to Labor Ready's branch manager in Washington, Pa., who had placed them on the work assignment and to the corporate hotline, but no one responded to their harassment complaints. Instead, Labor Ready's Washington branch manager removed Cole and Johnson from another job assignment and terminated their employment in retaliation for the complaints about the harassment.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment based on sex or race. Title VII also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against someone who complains about harassment or discrimination. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Labor Ready Mid-Atlantic, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-01251-CRE) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from offensive and illegal sexual and racial harassment in all workplaces," said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "And management must take complaints of harassment seriously when it is brought to its attention."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "No employee should be subjected to sexually or racially motivated groping, slurs or menacing behavior in order to earn a living -- or be fired in punishment for complaining about such threatening conduct and comments."
Legal staff of EEOC's Philadelphia District Office prosecutes cases arising out of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, parts of New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.