Monday, March 5, 2012
Ready Mix Pays $400,000 to Settle Noose Case
By Tommy Eden, Attorney
Ready Mix USA, a major cement and concrete products company in Montgomery, Alabama, will pay $400,000 and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit for racial harassment filed by the Birmingham District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC charged in its lawsuit filed in 2009 that a class of African American males at Ready Mix’s Montgomery-area facilities was subjected to a racially hostile work environment. The EEOC alleged that a noose was displayed in the worksite, that derogatory racial language, including references to the Ku Klux Klan, was used by a direct supervisor and manager and that race-based name calling occurred. Ready Mix denied that racial harassment occurred at its worksites. (EEOC v. Ready Mix USA). Racial discrimination and harassment violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The consent decree settling the suit announced on February 21, 2012, provides that Ready Mix will pay a total of $400,000 in compensatory damages to be apportioned among the seven class members. The two-year decree enjoins Ready Mix from engaging in further racial harassment or retaliation and requires that the company conduct EEO training. Ready Mix will be required to modify its policies to ensure that racial harassment is prohibited and a system for investigation of complaints is in place. The company must also report certain complaints of harassment or retaliation to the EEOC for monitoring.
Common Sense Counsel: To avoid this kind of expensive public embarrassment, employers must understand that it is all about creating a respectful workplace environment. In Fiscal Year 2011, the EEOC received 35,395 charges alleging race-based discrimination and 8776 of those alleged race-based harassment. Historically, race-based charges account for more than 35% of all charge filings nationwide. A noose is a threatening symbol of cruelty that has no place in any American workplace.
First, it begins first with a commitment from top management to not allow certain types of unacceptable conduct to creep into the workplace. I call it the Barney Fife school of human resource management where you have to "nip it in the bud." That is especially true with workplace off-color or sexually laced jokes, pictures or cartoons. Second, a legally defensible equal employment opportunity statement in the employee handbook is absolutely critical. Third, make sure that every employee in your organization is trained on the policy and have signed their name at the bottom of the policy. Fourth, once a complaint comes in made sure that it is investigated within 24 to 48 hours and prompt corrective and remedial action is taken and documented.
Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Capell & Howard, PC, a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 334-501-1540, or www.AlabamaAtWork.com.