Employer pays $170K to resolve suit alleging worksite noose, KKK meeting
- MPW Industrial Services, Inc., an Ohio-based industrial cleaning company, has agreed to pay $170,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging that two African-American employees were subjected to harassment based on race (EEOC v. MPW Industrial Services, Inc., No. 1:18-cv-0063, (S.D. Ohio, Oct. 29, 2018)).
- According to the complaint, the workers were subjected to racist comments and jokes. Moreover, there were two incidents involving a noose and, at one point, one was placed around one of the worker’s necks, the suit said. The other employee also allegedly was "refused access to a break-room because it was stated a Klu Klux Klan meeting was being held." The EEOC also said that, despite repeated complaints, MPW did not attempt to stop the harassment.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, MPW agreed to train supervisors and managers to identify and prevent racial harassment in the future.
Training for managers and front-line supervisors can play an important role in preventing harassment and keeping matters from resulting in expensive settlements and litigation. Experts say managers and supervisors remain a leading cause of federal employment law violations.
An investigation done in good faith that ends with a "well-reasoned conclusion" is key to employers avoiding liability for harassment claims, Pavneet Singh Uppal and Shayna Balch, both partners at Fisher Phillips LLP, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference earlier this year.
Of course, investigations aren't necessary for every complaint. But it's important to carefully review those that might make their way to court, Singh Uppal said. And if you conclude there was misconduct, it's important to take remedial action reasonably calculated to end the misconduct, he explained.
Finally, while HR can certainly conduct many types of investigations internally, it can be better to bring in a law firm if, for example, the complaint alleges misconduct on the part of a high-level executive or someone in HR, the speakers said.