Increased EEOC Activity Against Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation

In recent weeks, we have seen substantial activity by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (“EEOC”) which brought claims against Hillshire Brands/Tyson Foods – formerly known as Sara Lee Corporation (“Tyson”), a leading supplier of prepared food products, and Columbine Management Services Inc., an assisted living company (“CMS”).  In both cases, black employees faced discrimination in the form of hostile work environment and harassment.

In the Tyson case, the EEOC claimed that the company allowed a persistently intimidating workplace where racist comments were made by management and graffiti was permitted to remain on bathroom walls.  Some supervisors even allegedly used the “N” word and gave the black workers more dangerous job assignments.  At the same time, there was also a private lawsuit filed by former Tyson workers alleging same illegal conduct which has been going on for years.

In the CMS case, black workers faced race and national origin discrimination.  For instance, the complaint states that certain African-born personal care takers were illegally fired for failing a test that was instituted with the intent to remove them from their lawful employment.  Since English was a second language for many of these black workers, the tests were presumably created to ensure they failed.  In addition, another allegation remarked that a newly hired director fired a white employee when she refused to terminate several African-born employees after they “failed” the discriminatory test.  Note that opposing discrimination is viewed as protected activity in the eyes of the law.

This law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects individuals from employment discrimination based on race, among many others as well as retaliation.   Discriminatory conduct may take the form of not hiring, firing, promoting, compensating, or providing other terms, conditions or privilege of employment.  The law also goes beyond these common activities and protects against many related actions as listed here by the EEOC.

What is also unique about these laws is that they protect against harassment, retaliation, and pre-employment inquiries.  The types of racial slurs that were permitted in the Tyson work environment is strictly forbidden if it creates an intimidating or offensive work atmosphere or interferes with the person’s work environment.  In the CMS case, there was also the instance of retaliation when the white worker spoke up about the illegality of the tests and subsequent terminations.  Our courts provide a right to be free from retaliation when you oppose discrimination or participate in EEOC proceedings.  See these other blogs showing the recently increased activities by the EEOC.

If you believe that you suffered an employment law matter related to your employee rights or know of possible race, national origin or other forms of discrimination or retaliation by your employer, prompt action to preserve your rights is vital.  Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.