It’s March, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve never had a good relationship with February. Although it has the fewest days, February has always felt like the longest month to me. It may be time Becky and I start taking February vacations to warm tropical places. Maybe that’s where I’ll find the answer to a question that has vexed HR professionals since the dawn of time. That’s right, “On what planet was that OK?”
Warning! The following should not be read by anyone offended by foul language, in the presence of children, in an area where others may be disturbed by the repeated muttering of “are you f-ing kidding me?,” or if one more story of reprehensible workplace behavior will forever destroy your faith in humanity. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced a settlement agreement with Ithaca, NY-based Porous Materials, Inc. According to the press release, the employer “will pay $93,000 and furnish other relief” to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of the complainants.
Several employees alleged that the CEO and a former plant manager subjected employees—including foreign-born individuals, women, and the company’s only Black employee—to unrelenting sexism, racism, and national origin discrimination. Further, through their actions, the CEO and plant manager created and sustained a hostile work environment.
According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court, the founder and CEO, called female employees “dumb women,” said, “these women can’t do anything,” are “very stupid,” worthless, and should speak only when spoken to. He also shared his belief that women should only be hired for office work, and told at least one female employee she would not get a raise because she was a woman.
Allegations against the plant manager included: stating that women were weak, inferior, unable to perform a “man’s job,” and should not be hired for non-office jobs. He loudly called women “bitches,” complained about their “PMS’ing,” made lewd comments to some about being “sexy” and that he liked their “buns” and “curves,” and made jokes about sex, oral sex, and large breasts. He also told a female employee to “come over here and sexually harass me” when she asked to leave work early; and announced that another female employee was too “fat” and “disgusting” for her husband to have sex with her. (Are you f-ing kidding me?)
The plant manager also allegedly often made comments concerning foreign-born employees, which included: referring to some as “terrorists;” asking why “you guys” take American jobs; stating that he hated or was “f***ing sick” of immigrants; complaining that immigrants didn’t speak English, committed crimes, and were taking over America; and telling foreign-born employees to “go back” to the countries where they were born. In addition, he mocked non-English languages and the employees’ accents by speaking in gibberish and then claiming he was talking to them in their native languages. He also yelled at employees for conversing in their primary language and told them to stop speaking “other f***ing language[s]” because “we’re in America, motherf***ers!” (Are you f-ing kidding me?)
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the plant manager relentlessly harassed the only Black employee, a female lab technician, and an immigrant from France. In addition to regularly using the N-word in her presence, he commented that her husband, who is also Black, should have a rope around his neck and be dragged through a cotton field. Then he accused the the employee of being racist because she didn’t find his comments funny. (ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME?!)
There is one more fact that makes this case especially disturbing to me. (Wait, I’m not sure I want to hear anything that could possibly be more disturbing.) Not only did the employees repeatedly complain to the HR manager, to no avail, but the employees reported that the HR manager was often present, or comments were loud enough and near enough to her office that she heard them. Wait for it… ON WHAT PLANET WAS ANY OF THAT OK?!
Yet even after countless complaints to the HR manager resulted in no relief, the employees endured the harassing, threatening, and retaliatory behaviors for more than a year before a formal agency complaint was filed. It wasn’t until the plant manager fired the lab technician—which of course had nothing to do with retaliation for standing up to him, and her repeated complaints to HR, that she went to the EEOC.
I hope I didn’t bring anyone’s mood down. Still, it’s important to understand that, even with the progress that’s been made in combating workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, they sometimes still flourish in plain sight.
I almost forget; it’s Friday! Do something enjoyable, like watching a funny movie or having an adult beverage (but only if you’re 21 or older!). I know which Becky and I will be choosing. Cheers!
That’s a wrap on another Fridays with Frank. Thanks for spending a small part of your day with me, and have a great weekend!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.
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