Federal Agency Charges Vitol and Johnson Controls Retaliated Against Employee Who Filed Discrimination Charge
HOUSTON – Two large Houston companies, Vitol, Inc. and Johnson Controls, Inc., violated federal law by retaliating against a female employee for filing a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, after serving as executive secretary to the president for seven and one-half years, Lucinda Gonzalez was fired by Vitol in July 2008. Gonzalez was subsequently hired by Johnson Controls as a sales assistant. In December 2008, Gonzalez filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in good faith against her former employer, Vitol. The charge alleged, among other things, that she was terminated by Vitol in retaliation for engaging in protected activity under Title VII.
Shortly after receiving a copy of the charge and learning that the EEOC would not be investigating it further, Vitol forwarded a copy of the charge and the EEOC notice to management at Johnson Controls, where Gonzalez was employed at the time. The EEOC argues that there was no legitimate business reason for Vitol’s forwarding of the December 2008 charge and the EEOC’s notice to Johnson Controls. Rather, the EEOC asserts, this action was taken by Vitol to retaliate against Gonzalez for filing the charge against the company. On the very same date that the charge and dismissal were received by Johnson Controls and reviewed by her supervisor, that company made the decision to fire Gonzalez as part of a purported reduction-in-force.
Retaliation against an employee for complaining about discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (Civil Action No. 4:11-cv-03506) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In the suit, the EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting both companies from engaging in employment discrimination, as well as other non-monetary relief. Also, from Vitol, the EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and other relief for Gonzalez.
“Employees must be assured unfettered access to the remedial mechanisms provided by the EEOC to address discrimination in the workplace,” said R.J. Ruff, Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office. “Even if a charge, made in good faith, is dismissed, an employee must be protected from adverse action for filing the charge.”
Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, added, “Even if the EEOC chooses not to pursue an investigation of a charge, an employee’s right to file such a charge must remain unimpeded. This is mandated by well-established public policy which provides that the EEOC acts on information contained in a charge not just for the benefit of the specific discrimination victim, but also to vindicate the public interest in preventing employment discrimination.”
Vitol is a Houston-based company, incorporated in Delaware and a subsidiary of a multinational energy conglomerate, Vitol Group. According to the parent company’s website, www.vitol.com, Vitol Group is a publicly traded “major oil multinational” company and “one of the largest traders in the world’s energy marketplace.” According to its website, Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and industrial leader.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.