Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), announced on May 27, 2022, that a Michigan-based company will pay $175,000 as well as provide other relief to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. The EEOC charged Konos, Inc., with violating federal law by subjecting a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment and then retaliating against her because she complained. (https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/konos-agrees-pay-175000-settle-eeoc-sexual-harassment-and-retaliation-case)
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a male supervisor repeatedly made sexual advances towards the subordinate employee and even sexually assaulted her. The assaults led to a criminal prosecution and eventual conviction of the supervisor. Despite the seriousness of the supervisor’s conduct, and the employee’s complaints to the company, Konos failed to take appropriate action to end the harassment. The EEOC alleged that instead, after the employee complained, the company retaliated against her by sending her home.
Sexual Harassment Claims Under Title VII
The supervisor’s conduct allegedly violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of sex and from retaliating against employees who object to discrimination. Title VII protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII.
Proving a Retaliation Claim Under Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who has “made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in” any charge of unlawful discrimination under the Act. U.S. employers must comply with Title VII, but also with anti-retaliation provisions under several laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). In a March 2022 bulletin, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Dept. of Labor explains, “Anti-retaliation protections safeguard the basic rights afforded to workers in the United States. These protections hold the promise that workers can complain to the government or make inquiries to their employers about violations of the law without fear that they will be terminated or subject to other adverse actions as a result.”
Retaliation occurs when an employer, including through a manager, supervisor, administrator or other agent, takes an adverse action against an employee because they engaged in a protected activity.
In order to prove retaliation, you will need evidence to show all of the following:
- You experienced or witnessed illegal discrimination or harassment.
- You engaged in a protected activity.
- Your employer took an adverse action against you in response.
- You suffered some damage as a result.
Employee Activities Protected from Employer Retaliation
Employers are prohibited from punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these EEOC rights is called “protected activity,” and it can take many forms. For example, it is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees for:
- filing or being a witness in an EEOC 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.