Posted On: June 28, 2011

Sexual Harassment and Human Resources

My Chicago offices gets deluged with calls about employees who complain about sexual harassment and report it to human resources. The problem is human resources has its loyalty to the company not the employee. The people at human resources usually try to circle the wagons and keep the employee from filing a formal complaint with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") or the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"). The time limits for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC is 300 days and 180 for the IDHR. By stalling an investigation or claiming to be handling the situation, those time limits can pass quickly.

So where does this leave the employee when the time limits pass? Well in short you are out of luck. It is very important to contact my office or another attorney to get advice as soon as you are the victim of sexual harassment. The other problem is sometimes an employee will become the victim of retaliation once they file their sexual harassment complaint. Human Resources may be friendly with the harassing person or may be afraid of the persons position or other contacts in the company. Again, don't rely on human resources if you have been the victim of sexual harassment--contact an attorney.

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Posted On: June 27, 2011

Duquesne University Settles Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Duquesne University has settled two gender discrimination lawsuits filed by members of its School of Law faculty. Former associate dean Vanessa Browne-Barbour alleged that University officials discriminated against her based on racial discrimination and gender discrimination when they declined to consider her for the interim dean position. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, which is common in these types of cases.

The second lawsuit was filed by Former clinical law teacher Alice Stewart. She filed a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the University. She alleged the current Dean Ken Gormley reduced her pay, demoted her and moved her to an office outside the law school building in retaliation for a sexual harassment claim she filed against him in 2006. Retaliation occurs when a negative job action results after you file a claim of discrimination. You can see how long these cases can last and the best thing to do usually is to try and settle.

"We have resolved their differences and Ms. Stewart is leaving to pursue other interests. The university wishes her well." Statement issued by the University.

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Posted On: June 25, 2011

Discrimination Based on Skin Color

My chicago offices gets many inquiries about the difference between racial discrimination and discrimination based on color. Even though there is an overlap between race and color they are not the same. Color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") investigate color discrimination. It is interesting to note that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") does not define color but the the courts and the EEOC define color to have its commonly understood meaning – pigmentation, complexion, or skin shade or tone.

In short color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person. Title VII prohibits color discrimination against all persons, including Caucasians. Many people don't realize this nuance in the law but it does exist. When the IDHR or EEOC are investigating a claim of color discrimination, they utilize a different standard than the circuit or federal courts. They apply the same standard of proof to all race or color discrimination claims, regardless of the victim’s race or the type of evidence used.

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Posted On: June 24, 2011

Finish Line Settles ADA Lawsuit For $38,000

Finish Line, Inc. settled an Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") lawsuit for $38,000. The ADA lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of Emma Armon. According to published accounts Armon had a right shoulder injury and wanted a transfer to an available customer service representative position as a reasonable accommodation to her disability. This would seem to be a very reasonable accommodation and under the law should have been granted especially since Armon was qualified for the open position.

However, Armon was not given the position and instead no accommodation was made for her which violated the ADA which requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities as long as this poses no undue hardship. As a result, the company had to pay money and now has a record of discrimination. This is such a waste, I will never understand why companies just don't do the right thing and follow the law. This type of activity also creates a hostile work environment for all employees because the other employees can see this type of discrimination and it sets a negative tone for the workplace.

“As the statute makes clear, failure to provide a reasonable accomodation for disabilities is in violation of federal law,” said EEOC attorney Laurie Young

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Posted On: June 23, 2011

Sexual Harassment Evidence

I get many calls to my Chicago office about what constitutes evidence of sexual harassment. There are many types of evidence. Direct testimony, where a person testifies about what he or she heard. There are email, text messages, and voice messages (it is illegal in Illinois to record someone without their permission, but if a person chooses to leave a voice message they are consenting). Sometimes the person doing the sexual harassment will give gifts, send cards or letters via the post office and may call the person during non-work hours. I can get the telephone log to show the calls were made and there usually isn't a business reason to call someone at home late at night or after work. This would constitute a hostile work environment.

If your boss or the person committing the sexual harassment only does it one on one, a good technique to utilize is to send the person an email, memorializing what he said to you and see if he responds. So if he said he would like to take you out and do xyz to you, send him an email and say something like you caught me off guard in the hall today, do you really want to go out with me and do xyz? You are not entrapping him but rather just memorializing what he said and seeing what his response is. At the end of the day if you file a complaint of sexual harassment, the burden is on you to prove your case so it is very helpful if you have some evidence.

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Posted On: June 22, 2011

Fisher, Collins & Carter, Inc. pays $77,000 To Settle ADA Lawsuit

Fisher, Collins & Carter, Inc pays $77,000 to settle a Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of Robert Gray and Wayne Seifert. According to published accounts, Fisher, Collins & Carter, Inc. engaged in unlawful disability discrimination when it fired Gray and Seifert shortly after it discovered, through a questionnaire on employees’ health conditions, medical issues and medications, that they both had both diabetes and hypertension. This kind of activity by a company is creepy and illegal.

Both men had been long time employees of the company as Gray worked for 15 years and Seifert had been there for 11 years. Both were very good workers and did not have any performance issues. I really can't believe a company would send around a questionnaire and then fire the employees based on their answers. I am glad the company had to pay money and I hope people realize what type of crazy behavior takes place out there.

“Many people, including Robert Gray and Wayne Seifert, have demonstrated their ability to perform their jobs just fine regardless of diabetes and hypertension,” said EEOC Attorney Debra M. Lawrence.

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Posted On: June 21, 2011

LensCrafters Pays $192,500 To Settle A Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

LensCrafters pays $192,500 to settle a female-on-male sexual harassment lawsuit. This type of lawsuit is unusual but becoming more common as more females are in leadership positions in companies. The sexual harassment lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of the male employee. According to published accounts LensCrafters subjected a male employee to a sexually hostile work environment while he was at work.

The male lab technician was subjected to sexual harassment and then he complained to management about it and they did nothing to stop the harassment. The sexual harassment included the female employee touching the male and making inappropriate comments about his appearance. The company did not take the complaints seriously because the person was a man. This type of behavior by the company is no acceptable and ended up costing them a good deal of money.

“This is a favorable resolution for everyone,” said EEOC attorney Nedra Campbell. “Sexual harassment is always unjust and illegal, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or the victim.”

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Posted On: June 20, 2011

Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Claims

In most cases a claim of sexual harassment will be followed by a claim of retaliation because most companies seem to shoot the messenger. A person comes forward with a claim of sexual harassment and human resources usually either doesn't take the claim seriously or then looks into how they can dig up dirt and discipline the person being harassed. It is very important to contact human resources by email so that you have a paper trail of what took place and you can prove you complained.

Remember that you only have 180 days from the last date of sexual harassment to file a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") or 300 days with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). If you file with the IDHR they will automatically file with the EEOC. Sometimes a company will drag out its' investigation past the 180 and 300 day time limits in order to prevent the employee from asserting their rights. Make sure you don't allow this to happen.

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Posted On: June 19, 2011

Finish Line, Inc. Pays $38,000 To Settle EEOC Lawsuit

Finish Line, Inc. will pay $38,000 to settle an Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). According to published accounts Finish Line refused to grant Emma Armon, who has a physical impairment related to a right shoulder injury, a transfer to an available customer service representative position as a reasonable accommodation to her disability.

According to the ADA employers must make reasonably accommodations to employees with disabilities as long as this poses no undue hardship. The ADA has been around for a long time and you would think that companies have it figured out. People with disabilities have a hard enough time and don't need additional problems from employers.

“As the statute makes clear, failure to provide a reasonable accomodation for disabilities is in violation of federal law,” said EEOC attorney Laurie Young.

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Posted On: June 17, 2011

Sonic Drive-In of Los Lunas, Ltd. and B&B Consultants Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit For $2 Million

Sonic Drive-In of Los Lunas, Ltd. and B&B Consultants settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit for $2 Million. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of a class of women, some of whom were teenagers. According to published accounts, former manager Robert Gomez, subjected a class of women, including teenagers, to sexual harassment, including sexual comments and innuendo as well as unwanted touching. This type of behavior should not happen to such a large group of employees without the knowledge of management.

Allegations included that women who asked Gomez to stop harassing them or complained about their work environment were subjected to retaliation by management. Some employees were also forced to quit their jobs because of the sexual harassment, retaliation, and/or the employer’s failure to provide preventive or remedial relief. When this occurs it is called a constructive discharge. You can see how much money this type of behavior and activity cost the company. I can't believe that companies don't spend more time and money training management. I hope other companies can learn a lesson from this.

“Managers must constantly be reminded of their obligation to maintain workplaces where employees are not subjected to illegal harassment or retaliation,” said EEOC attorney Mary Jo O'Neill.

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Posted On: June 16, 2011

Ricoh Americas Corp. Pays $125,000 To Settle Retaliation Lawsuit

Ricoh Americas Corporation ("Ricoh") will pay $125,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of three employees. The three employees were James Nyema-Davies, Anibal Melendez and Gustavo Tovar. According to published accounts Ricoh subjected the three to discrimination based on their race and national origin which was black and Columbian and Puerto Rican. The lawsuit further alleged that Ricoh suspended and then fired all three employees for complaining about the harassment-which is retaliation.

The men were subjected to offensive national origin- and race-based harassment, including derogatory comments by the site manager in their location. On a daily or near-daily basis, the site manager made comments to the three employees such as stating that she “hated Puerto Ricans,” that “Hispanics are so stupid,” “Colombians are good for nothing except drugs,” and that “damn, f-----g Africans . . .ain’t worth s--t.”

“Race and national origin harassment include racial or ethnic slurs or other expressions of dislike for different racial and ethnic backgrounds,” said EEOC Attorney Lynette A. Barnes

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Posted On: June 15, 2011

Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation Pays $60,000 To Settle Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation, pays $60,000 to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The lawsuit was filed on behalf for Kathryn Class who was not given the proper training solely based on her gender. According to published accounts Class was not trained like the male counter parts and therefore she was not able to be promoted to a yardmaster position.

Norfolk removed Class from yardmaster training and replaced her with a less qualified male employee, claiming that it removed her from the training based on its policy prohibiting individuals from directly or indirectly supervising, or being supervised by, a relative. Of course this was ridiculous and the basis on the lawsuit. I think the amount paid should be a good indication as to what really took place.

“The EEOC will take action when employers use company policies or practices to deprive women of equal training and employment opportunities,” said EEOC attorney Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.

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Posted On: June 13, 2011

Herzog Roofing Pays $71,500 To Settle Retaliation Lawsuit

A roofing company, Herzog roofing will pay $71,500 to seven black, Hispanic and American Indian employees to settle racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. The retaliation lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of the workers. According to published accounts, employees were frequently subjected to racial epithets, racial jokes and hostile treatment by other employees at Herzog Roofing.

The discrimination was largely the acts of supervisors. The employees complained but the complaints fell on deaf ears. When this type of activity takes place and is not stopped by management liability attaches. In this case the company ended up paying a pretty good amount of money. In the future I am sure the company will handle things in a different manner.

“Herzog now understands that it is not enough for an employer to have an anti-discrimination policy. The employer must enforce the policy and take preventive and corrective action to effectively fulfill its statutory obligation to maintain a workplace free of discrimination, including harassment.” said EEOC attorney Julie Schmid

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Posted On: June 12, 2011

What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

My office in Chicago gets this question often-what is a hostile work environment in Illinois? There are two types of hostile work environments. First, there is what is called a quid pro quo which is Latin and means this for that. In essence, if the boss says have sex with me and I will let you keep your job. This type of hostile work environment happens in sexual harassment cases. The second type is a culmination of acts the violate one of the categories of discrimination. For example people at work keep looking at porn and you keep seeing it on the computer screens. Or you are the subject of sexual commenets at work. These activities would create a hostile work environment.

Right now in Illinois there is no general harassment law or bullying law. Which means that the hostile work environment can only be claimed if it is based on acts that violate the Illinois Human Rights Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bascially, there has to be some category of discrimination that is violated--like sexual harassment or gender discrimination. If you are unsure of whether or not you have a legitimate case, you should contact my office to get an opinion. It is very important to do so early because there are strict time limits for filing claims and if you miss them, your case is lost.

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Posted On: June 11, 2011

Illinois Sexual Harassment Cases Have Strict Time Limits For Filing

In Illinois a person must file a charge of discrimination based on sexual harassment with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") within 180 days from the date of the last instance of ongoing sexual harassment. If the person misses the 180 days, she can file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within 300 days from the last date of the ongoing sexual harassment. Personally I prefer to file with the IDHR because they are mandated to complete an investigation within one year from the date of filing and the EEOC has no such mandate.

I also like the fact that the investigators for the IDHR are active and work to settle cases through mediation or the fact-finding conference process. The IDHR has three locations, Chicago, Springfield and Marion, Illinois. My office handles all three locations and I am very good at obtaining settlements prior to trial. In my opinion it is better to obtain a settlement early in the process for several reasons. First, in the instance of a sexual harassment claim, you can put the horrible incident behind you and move on with your life. Second, you get guaranteed money as opposed to waiting and perhaps having the company file for bankruptcy protection or go out of business.

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Posted On: June 10, 2011

Aaron's Must Pay $95 Million In Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

An Illinois woman was awarded $95 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving an Aaron's Inc. rent-to-own store in a St. Louis suburb. Aarons will have to do a lot of renting to owning to cover that large award. According to court documents the jury ruled in favor of the women and found Aarons liable for sexual harassment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress on a 20-year-old employee at its store in Fairview Heights, Ill.

According to details in the lawsuit the store manager touched the female and gave her pet names that were degrading and sexual in nature. The manager also tried to have sex with the woman and the women complained to the stores hotline. The store did nothing to stop any further harassment. In fact after complainint the manager forced the woman to the ground, lifted her shirt and masterbated all over her.

"We feel strongly that this verdict is the result of a decision made by a classic runaway jury, and because of that we are confident that the damages will be greatly reduced," said Chad Strickland, vice president of associate resources for the Atlanta-based retailer.


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Posted On: June 9, 2011

Advance Industrial Fabrications, Inc. Settles Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit For $35,000

Advance Industrial Fabrications, Inc. pays $35,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of Elizabeth Courtney. The lawsuit was filed after the parties were unable to reach an initial settlement. According to published accounts Advance Industrial Fabrications discriminated against Courtney by firing her because of her pregnancy.

Courtney worked in the front office and was terminated within a month of disclosing her pregnancy status to the company’s president. The company said that Courtney was terminated due to a medical condition that prevented her from fulfilling the attendance requirement and therefore she was unable to perform her duties. Of course this excuse was ridiculous and the company ended up giving up on it and paying money to settle the discrimination lawsuit. I am glad Courtney hung in there and would not let the company discriminate against her.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of Title VII prohibits employers from singling out pregnancy-related conditions in determining an employee’s ability to work,” said EEOC attorney Robert Dawkins

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Posted On: June 8, 2011

Veterinary Center Pays $101,000 To Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

East Hawaii Veterinary Center LLC pays $101,000 to settle a sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit. The multi-count lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after settlement talks failed. The EEOC filed on behalf of many women who claim they were the victims of sexual harassment. Published accounts claim a co-owner regularly subjected the females to sexually harassming conduct for years.

On a daily basis the co-owner insulted the female employees by making sexual commnets and hostile commets to women. The clinic failed to exercise its duty of reasonable care to prevent and correct the sexually harassing behavior. It became obvious the owners knew what was taking place and did nothing to stop it. The offending co-owner fired at least three of the women and forced others to quit. When someone is forced to quit it is referred to as a constructive discharge.

EEOC attorney Timothy Riera said, “Sexual harassment and gender discrimination remain problems in Hawaii, and it is important to remember the debilitating effects that such misconduct can have on a work environment."

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Posted On: June 7, 2011

True North Inc. Pays $103,000 To Settle Retaliation Lawsuit

True North Inc. which operates a shelter for women who have been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse pays $103,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit. The retaliation lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of two employees who were punished by True North, Inc. for reporting sexual harassment by the shelter’s executive director. The two women, Gause and Lawson claim Executive Director Leigh Voltmer touched staff members inappropriately on several occasions.

Less than two weeks after making the complaint, Gause was terminated and Lawson was demoted and her salary was cut. Both women had received positive feedback regarding their performance during their tenure as employees, but were terminated without warning, allegedly for poor performance. Following the board’s actions, other employees came forward and complained about a hostile work environment created by Voltmer.

“Nancy Gause and Tracie Lawson came forward at great personal risk to report complaints they had received from the shelter’s staff. Comprehensive Human Services is an organization that purports to shield women from abuse. These women should have been supported in reporting sexual harassment, not punished for doing the right thing." said EEOC attorney Barbara Seely.

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Posted On: June 6, 2011

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Often Settled

There is a myth out there that most sexual harassment cases go to trial and there is a large verdict. One reason for this myth is the fact that most big cases get publicity and are reported in the various medias. Cases that settle for millions often make the news and give people a false sense of the true value of most sexual harassment cases. The average case does not settle for big money but settling the case is often good for a number of reasons. First, it gives closure to the victim and helps the person get on with her life. Second, it gives a guarantee of some money and lasty it can be taken as a victory-the fact that the other side paid some money. Most sexual harassment cases also involve retaliation and the creation of a hostile work environment.

The danger in taking a sexual harassment or other type of case to trial is that by the time the case goes to trial, the company could be out of business or bankrupt. The reason it takes so long is that if you file with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") they cross file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The IDHR has up to one-year to complete its' investigation and that only gives you the right to file directly with the Illinois Human Rights Commission ("IHRC") if the IDHR finds substanial evidence. It will take another year with the IHRC before the actual trial and a decision by the judge after trial can take another two-years. If the EEOC investigates instead of the IDHR, it can take even longer. So if you can setttle.

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Posted On: June 5, 2011

Hostile Work Environments On The Rise

The number of cases involving the creation of a hostile work environment in Illinois seems to be on the rise. My Chicago office is reporting an increase in the number of hostile work environment cases based on sexual harassment. If you are the victim of such a case my office will file a complaint on your behalf with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and that complaint will be automatically cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). There are many reasons for the increase but the biggest is probably the lack of respect employers seems to convey to their employees.

The economy has been down for so long that employers believe they can do whatever they want to employees and nothing will happen. The employers believe they can easily replace the employee and therefore they falsely believe they are untouchable. I am here to tell you they are not. If you believe you are the victim of a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment or another form of discrimination please contact either of my offices. I hold many companies responsible for their actions and I can help you.

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Posted On: June 4, 2011

Dots Inc. Pays $246,500 To Settle Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Dots, Inc. pays $246,500 to settle a class racial discrimination lawsuit. The discrimination lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of a class of female workers. According to published accounts, Dots denied jobs on a systemic basis to white applicants since at least April 1, 2007. During that time Dots regularly hired black entry-level applicants for sales positions, but excluded white applicants who were equally or better qualified. This is commonly referred to as reverse discrimination.

According to details of the settlement there are 32 class members. That means the 32 women will split the settlement amount. The door swings both way when it comes to racial discrimination. In this case the company was discriminating against white workers and this too is not acceptable. Hopefully after paying this large amount the company will not engage in this type of behavior in the future.

“We hope that this is a wake-up call for Dots and other employers who believe that they are in compliance with the law if they hire minority applicants while excluding white applicants,” said EEOC Attorney Laurie A. Young.

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Posted On: June 3, 2011

U.S. Security Associates Inc. Pays $1.95 Million To Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

A large settlement involving U.S. Security Associates Inc. was just announced. According to published accounts, U.S. Security Associates Inc. will pay $1.95 million to seven women after they filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). According to the complaint a district manager for U.S. Security Associates Inc. was accused of harassing the seven female employees with sexual demands, inappropriate touching and other offensive conduct.

The company seems to be a gluten for punishment. It looks like the company previously lost a federal court verdict over the same manager's actions, and six other women made similar allegations claiming the same man sexually harassed them while working as a supervisor for the company in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. This manager is costing the company a great deal of money. Looks like the company should invest in some good screening, hiring and training practices.

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Posted On: June 2, 2011

Chicago Bar Tilted Kilt Sued For Sexual Harassment

Chicago Tilted Kilt sports bar is being sued for sexual harassment after 10 women came forward and each filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). According to published accounts the women are accusing a manager of making sexually explicit comments, inappropriate physical contact and unwanted advances. This type of behavior if proven will cost the company a great deal of money.

The women also claim that the owners of the bar and the restaurant chain's corporate officials were told of the alleged sexual harrassment and did nothing to stop it. The women also claim the manager loudly discussed pornography with customers and employees. With 10 women filing at the same time this is going to be a real fun case to watch. My guess is the case will settle soon and the manager will not be with the company when the case settles.


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Posted On: June 1, 2011

Longs Drugs a/k/a/ CVS Caremark Settles Gender Discrimination Lawsuit For $55,000

Longs Drugs a/k/a CVS Caremark pays $55,000 to settle a gender discrimination, retaliation and racial discrimination lawsuit. The multi-count lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of Marcia Guaman an African-American female buyer. According to details which have become public, Guaman was treated different from colleagues who were not black or female. As an example given in the lawsuit Guaman received verbal and written warnings for her performance numbers, while white female co-workers with lower scores did not face any disciplinary action.

Additional odd behavior by the company included Guaman’s requests for vacation days being denied, even though she asked prior to white co-workers who were granted vacation for the same dates. Guaman was discharged from her position a few months after she raised the differential treatment to human resources which is the basis of the retaliation charge. Many times it isn't a company policy to discriminate but rather the actions of a manager. This underscores how important it is to properly train employees and members of management.


“Employers should guard against bias creeping in to distort company policies, and training staff is an important preventive measure,” said EEOC Attorney William R. Tamayo.

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