Federal Contractor Intent on "Weeding Out" African Employees Fabricated Incidents of Misconduct to Justify Their Termination, Federal Agency Charges
BALTIMORE - MVM, Inc., an Ashburn, Va.-based diversified security services firm, violated federal law when it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against Africans based on their national origin, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today. The EEOC also charged that MVM punished employees for complaining about the abuse in various ways, including firings.
MVM provides security services for the National Institute of Health (NIH) on each of its four Maryland research campuses. According to the EEOC's suit, in 2013, MVM appointed a new project manager, James Smith, to oversee approximately 400 security personnel, about half of whom were foreign-born Africans.
Shortly after his appointment, Smith began complaining that there were "too many Africans," mocking their accents, and declaring that he would reduce the number of Africans on the contract, including by terminating and refusing to hire them, according to the suit. Thereafter, MVM systematically denied leave to African employees and those perceived to be African; forced them to work on their scheduled days off; subjected them to heightened scrutiny, intimidation, suspension, repeated threats of termination and trumped-up charges of misconduct and poor performance; denied them union representation; and/or terminated them without cause.
The EEOC said that despite dozens of complaints to MVM corporate, the harassment continued unabated. Instead of taking corrective action, MVM retaliated against those who opposed its unlawful treatment of Africans or who otherwise engaged in protected activity, including by reducing their hours; assigning them to undesirable posts; fabricating incidents of misconduct; and suspending and/or terminating them.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on national origin. Title VII also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee because he complained about harassment or discrimination.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. MVM, Inc., Civil Action No. 8:17-cv-02864) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. As part of the suit, the EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the discrimination victims as well as broad injunctive relief to prevent discrimination there in the future.
"It is shocking when managers and supervisors make or condone blatantly derogatory comments based just on national origin," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "It is inexcusable when an employer retaliates against those who complain about such unlawful conduct."
EEOC District Director Kevin Berry added, "It is mind-boggling that an employer would mistreat hundreds of workers - about half of its security workforce - simply because they were from Africa, after the company had hired them in the first place. It's outrageous situations like this that strongly call for the EEOC to step in and take action to protect people from such vile harassment and retaliation."
The EEOC's Baltimore Field Office is one of four offices in the Philadelphia District Office, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan. In 2015, the Commission convened a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, led by Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum and current Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. The report includes detailed recommendations for harassment prevention, including a chart of risk factors that may permit harassment to occur; effective policies and procedures to reduce and eliminate harassment; recommendations for future research and funding; and targeted outreach. In addition, it offers a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers and other stakeholders.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.