The EEOC’s Focus on Harassment in the Workplace Continues with Seven More Lawsuits Filed in August 2018

Have you visited the EEOC website lately?  Featured prominently at the top of the Home page is a section titled “What You Should Know: What to Do if You Believe You Have Been Harassed at Work” and a link that sets out detailed (but common sense) instructions for handling harassment in the workplace.  The EEOC is also backing up their outreach efforts to potential victims of harassment with a flurry of new lawsuits alleging harassment based on race, national origin, and sex, in a variety of industries including country clubs, cleaners, restaurants, airlines, healthcare, and grocery stores.  Seven of those lawsuits were filed in the second week of August 2018.  This is the second time in two months that the EEOC has coordinated multi-state actions on harassment.  A link to the EEOC press release accompanying the most recent filings may be found here.

Two of the most recent cases filed by the EEOC are out of the Houston and Dallas District offices.  The EEOC’s Houston District Office and the New Orleans Field Office sued Marion’s Cleaners in the Eastern District of Louisiana for harassment based on race and national origin and retaliation for firing the victim who complained about it.  According to the press release, “[t]he lawsuit alleges that one of the company’s employees spent months continually telling the victim that she ‘needed to go back to Mexico,’ that she ‘was nothing,’ that she was a ‘stupid Mexican,’ a ‘dirty Mexican,’ and to ‘shut up’ when speaking Spanish.  When the employee reported the comments to Marion’s Cleaners, it did nothing.  The employee asked her co-worker to stop making the comments and he responded by grabbing her by the hair, repeatedly punching her in the face, and then pressing her against an exposed steam pipe.  She suffered severe, second-degree burns and trauma as a result of the incident.  The suit alleges that Marion’s Cleaners fired the victim for reporting the incident rather than taking action against the harasser.”

The second suit was filed by the EEOC’s Dallas District Office and San Antonio Field Office in the Western District of Texas alleging that United Airlines allowed a hostile work environment of sexual harassment over a multi-year period.  According to the press release, “[a] United captain frequently posted sexually explicit images of a United flight attendant to various websites, making reference to the flight attendant’s name, home airport, and sometimes referencing the airline’s tagline ‘Fly the Friendly Skies.’  The lawsuit alleges that the posts were seen by several male co-workers and adversely affected the flight attendant’s working environment.  United failed to prevent and correct the pilot’s behavior, even after the flight attendant made numerous complaints and provided substantial evidence to support her complaints.”

The Bottom Line for Employers

The heightened activity at the EEOC demonstrates the continued commitment of the agency to investigating and remedying harassment in the workplace in the #MeToo era.  We think it also signals what many employment lawyers have been saying for a number of months now — that filings of harassment charges and lawsuits will increase as will agency and court scrutiny of harassment allegations.  If employers have not already done so, they should be auditing their anti-harassment efforts on multiple fronts including: (i) examining the scope and effectiveness of their anti-harassment policies, (ii) certifying employee awareness of the company’s anti-harassment policy and reporting avenues, (iii) committing to a meaningful and robust investigative and compliance program, including written procedures and investigator training, and (iv) ensuring that the company responds effectively and consistently if there is credible evidence of unacceptable behavior contrary to company policies.