- An Alaskan mining company has agreed to pay $690,000 to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a female miner.
- The company denied promotions to a female miner while men with less seniority or training were promoted, EEOC said. When the female miner complained, the employer retaliated against her by imposing additional training requirements but allowed men to advance without meeting that same standard. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the EEOC.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, the mining company agreed to hire an independent expert to implement policies, procedures and training to ensure equal employment and enhance accountability of managers, supervisors and trainers. The company also agreed to provide anti-discrimination training to all employees, including those in leadership positions; to make available to all employees and job applicants the company's EEO policy; to report to the EEOC all sex or gender discrimination or retaliation complaints it receives from its employees for the next three years; and to post a notice about the consent decree and employees' rights under federal law.
Title VII forbids denying promotions based on sex. Sex is rarely a bona fide occupational qualification and the EEOC has said that the exception, as it applies to sex, should be interpreted narrowly.
It is illegal for employers to punish employees for taking advantage of the protections offered by equal employment opportunity laws. For example, it is unlawful to retaliate against employees for filing a charge with the EEOC or a lawsuit alleging workplace discrimination.
According to EEOC, is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for:
- "Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit.
- Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment.
- Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment.
- Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination.
- Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others.
- Requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice.
- Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages."
It's worth noting employees can successfully sue for retaliation even if the underlying claim of discrimination is found to have no merit.
At a 2018 Society for Human Resource Management conference, attorney Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris, suggested that when presented with a complaint, HR professionals should thank workers for raising their concerns, explain the life cycle of a complaint and assure them that their complaint will be taken seriously. Employees need to know that, while they may not always get exactly what they want from HR, they'll be treated with respect, Segal said.
Managers and supervisors should understand that timing alone can establish a prima facie case of retaliation, attorneys have previously told HR Dive. For this reason, strong documentation should be in place before disciplining an employee who has engaged in protected activity, to establish that the discipline is legally warranted.