- A Michigan company that pickles vegetables violated federal law when it failed to act on a sexual harassment complaint lodged against a "favored employee" and then retaliated against the employees who either made or supported the accusation, EEOC has alleged in a lawsuit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Safie Specialty Foods Company, Inc., No. 2:18-cv-13270 (E.D. Mich., Oct. 19, 2018).
- Two women were repeatedly the target of "unwelcome sexual advances, comments, lurking and staring by the lead processing employee, who is also the husband of a high-ranking employee at Safie," EEOC said, announcing the suit. One of the women complained to her shift supervisor, who prepared a written report and sent it to higher-level management. The allegations were supported by a male co-worker and the other victim. Safie allegedly responded by firing the two victims, the male co-worker and the shift supervisor, in violation Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEOC said.
- The agency is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages. "One does not solve a sexual harassment problem by firing everyone who had the courage to oppose it," Miles Uhlar, trial attorney for the Detroit Field Office, said in a statement.
As the #MeToo movement took hold last year, high-profile employers began to realize that they can no longer give favored employees — sometimes a rainmaker or the face of the organization — a pass when it comes to sexual harassment.
Instead, experts have been urging employers to allow HR to conduct investigation and enforce policies. 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.
Investigations aren't for every complaint but rather for issues that might make their way to court, Singh Uppal said, and the pair offered suggestions for such investigations. If you choose to investigate, create a witness list, set a timetable and conduct interviews, they said. Interviews should start with the complaining employee and ask for texts, emails or video to support the complaint. At the end of the investigation, write a wrap-up memo. If you conclude there was misconduct, take remedial action reasonably calculated to end the misconduct.
Finally, while HR is fully capable of conducting such an investigation, Singh Uppal said it can be important to bring in a law firm if, for example, the complaint alleged misconduct on the part of an executive or someone in HR.