By Allison Pearson Rhodes
On June 14, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a press release stating that it had filed seven lawsuits against various employers across the country for harassment. The EEOC stated that the suits “should reinforce to employers that harassment — on all bases — is a violation of federal law.”
The majority of the suits focused on sexual harassment of female employees including alleged unwelcome physical and verbal abuse, sexual comments, and unwanted and inappropriate touching.
For instance, the EEOC’s Los Angeles District office filed a suit alleging that a supervisor rubbed the backs of female employees while making comments about their undergarments. There were also allegations that the supervisor had “accidentally” grazed their breasts while they were working at printing machines. Similarly the EEOC’s Indianapolis District Office and Cincinnati Area office filed suit against a commercial cleaning company alleging that the company’s owner hugged an employee, told her how sexy she looked, made sexual comments about her body, and repeatedly called her after work hours suggesting they have a sexual relationship.
Not all of the suits focused on owners or supervisors. The St. Louis District EEOC office filed suit against a trucking company for allowing an employee to sexually harass and threaten a female truck driver. The employer had stopped using the accused employee as a trainer but continued to allow him to work with co-drivers. A female co-driver alleged that she was verbally harassed for the six weeks they drove together and was threatened that she would lose her commercial driver’s license if she reported his behavior. Although the employer had taken some steps, such as removing the accused as a trainer, the EEOC suit alleges that the employer did not address the behavior sufficiently because it allowed the accused to ride with a female co-driver and did not warn her of the accused’s past misconduct.
In addition to filing these suits, the EEOC also recently held a meeting of its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The Task Force was established in 2015, and issued a final report in June 2016. The Task Force reconvened in light of the #MeToo movement. Regarding the meeting the EEOC stated, “Our challenge is to use this #MeToo moment well. . . . We have the attention and commitment of the range of different actors in society that we need. Together we can channel that energy to create significant and sustainable change.”
As the EEOC continues to focus on addressing harassment, so should employers. The outcome of these cases remains to be seen, but they demonstrate that the EEOC is willing to take action and may be focusing its attention on harassment claims. Training your employees before you receive complaints and addressing complaints quickly and respectfully once an employee reports them are both crucial steps to limiting harassment in the workplace and curbing your potential liability. Our attorneys regularly conduct training for employees and managers on recognizing and reporting harassment and addressing the allegations using best practices.
The information provided above is created by Attorney Allison C. Pearson of Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP. Allison is an associate in the Labor and Employment Practice Group. This is not a substitute for legal advice and should be considered for general guidance only. For more information or if you have further questions, please contact one of our Labor and Employment Attorneys.