- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) this week ordered Pallet Companies, doing business as IFCO Systems, to pay $202,200 and provide significant equitable relief to settle one of the commission's first lawsuits alleging sex discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- In the case, the EEOC charged that a lesbian employee at IFCO's Baltimore facility was repeatedly harassed by her supervisor, who made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance. He said things including "I want to turn you back into a woman" and "You would look good in a dress," according to the suit.
- EEOC charged that the same supervisor made sexually suggestive gestures to the woman. To make matters even worse, IFCO retaliated against the female employee by firing her just days after she complained to management and called the employee hotline to report the harassment, according to the EEOC.
The employer in this case violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of sex and retaliation. The EEOC did try to to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, but that didn't happen.
The two-year consent decree requires IFCO to pay $182,200 in monetary relief to the female employee and donate $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to support the Human Rights Campaign's Workplace Equality Program. Among other things, the decree also enjoins IFCO from engaging in sex discrimination or retaliation in the future and to hire an expert on sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender training to assist in developing a training program for IFCO's top managers, supervisors and employees on LGBT workplace issues.
Employers need to be aware and vigilant that coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan. No doubt there will be more of these cases in the months ahead. It's a good time to revisit HR policies to make sure LGBT employees have a safe way to report abuse and discrimination without retaliation.