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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Record $4 Million to Settle EEOC Race Bias Claims

By: Thomas Eden


Stanley Beaty, an African-American, was employed by Hillshire Brands at its Paris, Texas plant when he complained of racial harassment. He claimed in this federal court complaint that he and other black employees were subjected to racial slurs from supervisors and co-workers, including frequent use of the “N” word and “boy” when speaking to and/or about African-American employees. Beaty said he also complained of racist graffiti written on the bathroom walls at the plant. According to the EEOC lawsuit, several other employees complained to management about the on-going racially offensive graffiti, but plant management failed to take prompt and effective remedial measures to prevent and correct the discriminatory conduct.

Hillshire brands, formerly known as Sara Lee Corporation, was accused by the EEOC of permitting such discriminatory practices from August 2001 through November 2011 when the plant in Paris closed.

Rather than go to trial against the 74 workers witnesses, Hillshire Brands agreed on Friday to a consent decree to pay $4 million to settle claims of 74 workers at the now closed plant that the company subjected a class of black employees to a racially hostile work environment. This was the largest settlement ever for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Dallas office.

The consent decree requires Hillshire to implement anti-racism training and provide a way for employees to confidentiality report instances of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, as well as a point-of-contact for those who feel they have been treated improperly. Hillshire is also required to punish workers with suspensions and even termination who are found "by reasonable evidence" to have engaged in racial bias or behavior related to it.

Common Sense Counsel: Race Discrimination is one of the EEOC Litigation Hot Buttons for 2016. No worker, regardless of race, gender, or other discriminatory factors, should ever have to endure harassment in order to earn a paycheck. As this case proves, the EEOC continues in its full press litigation mode. Harassment claims, racial and otherwise, are by far the most costly and destructive to the fabric of any business. The 2016 policy upgrade, training, and internal investigations listed in this consent decree are exactly what every Alabama employer should do before they become a story headline.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and 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 teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com