- A Miami-based entertainment company that claimed providing accommodations to employees with disabilities would jeopardize its relationships with its business partners has settled two lawsuits brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $925,000.
- Entertainment Benefits Group refused to accommodate employees with disabilities and did not investigate allegations of third-party harassment or take corrective action to stop the behavior, the Commission says. The company also retaliated against employees who complained about harassment, requested accommodations or were associated with someone with a disability, the EEOC said. The company was sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- In addition to the financial settlement, the company also agreed to create a procedure to handle and investigate harassment complaints, provide training and to develop a centralized tracking system for employee requests for accommodations.
In an EEOC enforcement guide, the agency noted that employers cannot rely on the discriminatory preferences of co-workers, customers or clients as the basis for adverse employment actions, and that an employment decision based on the discriminatory preferences of others is itself discriminatory.
Under Title VII, employers are not allowed to assign or refuse to assign workers to certain positions, deny promotions or otherwise segregate workers into jobs based on their national origin. The Commission has noted that a desire for a specific "corporate look" can serve as a pretext for discriminatory customer preference and, as a result, would not justify hiring, assignment or promotion decisions that treat individuals in a disparate manner based on their national origin or other illegal factors. For example, a male ultrasound technician cannot be terminated because patients prefer female technicians.
Writing for JDSupra, attorneys at Zelle LLP bring up a potential issue involving customer preference — even customer prejudice — and the information economy. Noting that customer preference is never a justification for employment discrimination, the law firm asked: What responsibility does an employer have to identify customer bias in an age of anonymous online feedback and customer satisfaction questions at the end of telephone surveys?
If customers provide negative feedback about a call center rep with an accent, is it because the customers don't like people perceived to be foreign or is it because the worker was not helpful, the law firm asked. The firm noted that customer bias could become a significant concern as online, anonymous and aggregated ratings by customers become more common.
The EEOC has said that employers can reduce discriminatory employment decisions in hiring, promotion and assignment by establishing written criteria tied to business needs for evaluating candidates and consistently applying the requirements to all candidates.