Company Failed to Stop Race- and National Origin-Based Harassment, Then Suspended and Fired Three Employees for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced it has filed a lawsuit against Ricoh Americas Corporation for subjecting an African employee and two Hispanic employees to harassment based on their national origin at one of its work sites in Greensboro, N.C. The lawsuit further charged that the African employee was harassed based on his race. The company then suspended and fired the three employees after they made several complaints to Ricoh’s managers about the harassment, the EEOC said.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, James Nyema-Davies (a black Liberian), Anibal Melendez (a Puerto Rican) and Gustavo Tovar (a Colombian) were subjected to offensive national origin- and race-based harassment, including derogatory comments by the site manager in their location. The harassment was ongoing from approximately June 2006 through October 2009, the EEOC said. On a daily or near-daily basis, the site manager made comments to the three employees such as stating that she “hated Puerto Ricans,” that “Hispanics are so stupid,” “Colombians are good for nothing except drugs,” and that “damn, f-----g Africans . . .ain’t worth s--t.” The three employees complained about the harassment on multiple occasions between 2007 and 2009, both individually and as a group.
However, Ricoh took no action to stop the harassment, the EEOC said. Around October 30, 2009, the employees were suspended after they made additional complaints to Ricoh’s management, during which Melendez mentioned that the employees should file a lawsuit against Ricoh to end the harassment. Approximately three days later, on or about November 2, 2009, Ricoh fired all three employees.
Harassment based on national origin and/or race and retaliation for complaining about it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (EEOC v. Ricoh Americas Corporation, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-00743), after attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Ricoh. In its suit, the EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Nyema-Davies, Melendez, and Tovar. The EEOC also seeks injunctive and non-monetary relief.
“Harassment can come in the form of racial or ethnic slurs, expressions of hatred for racial or ethnic backgrounds and other types of derogatory remarks about a person’s race or national origin,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes of the agency’s Charlotte District Office. “A company is liable for failing to take prompt and effective action to stop its managers from harassing its employees. Employers are likewise liable if employees who complain about employment discrimination are punished because of their complaints.”
Ricoh sells and services copiers, fax machines, printers, and related supplies such as paper, toner, and software for the machines. Ricoh also provides on-site administrative services to companies such as mail processing, mail distribution and copier services.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.