As discussed at a recent Weber Gallagher Employment Presentation, the EEOC has identified LGBT discrimination and harassment as one of its priorities in its Strategic Enforcement Plan and in fact last March, the EEOC filed two LGBT harassment lawsuits. One of these lawsuits recently settled and the terms of the settlement provide insight into how the EEOC is approaching these cases and its use of the equitable remedies available under Title VII.
In this case, the employee of IFCO Systems' alleged that her supervisor made numerous comments about her sexual orientation and appearance making remarks such as, "You would look good in a dress" and "I want to turn you back into a woman." The employee complained and was fired a few days later. The EEOC filed suit in Maryland's Federal District Court. The EEOC has made clear that it interprets Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, to include protection for LGBT individuals.
To settle the case, the employer agreed to pay $202,000 and to enter into a consent decree with significant equitable remedies. The employer will pay $182,200 in monetary relief to the female employee and will make a donation of $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to support its Workplace Equality Program. The employer will also provide a letter of reference to the employee. The consent decree enjoins IFCO from engaging in discrimination or retaliation in the future, to post a notice of the settlement in the workplace, distribute its equal employment policies, to set up a toll-free employee hotline and web address for complaints and to report to the EEOC on its compliance. Interestingly, the employer also agreed to retain an expert on sexual orientation, gender identity and transgender issues to assist in developing a training program on LGBT workplace issues for its top managers, supervisors and employees.
Comment: What should employers take away from this settlement? First, the EEOC is serious about prosecuting claims of LGBT discrimination and harassment. Employers should make sure their anti-discrimination policies cover LGBT discrimination and harassment and that their supervisors are properly trained. Second, the Commission is looking to use all the items in its enforcement tool box and this case is a reminder of the breadth of those remedies.
Chelsea R. Seidel