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PRESS RELEASE
12-29-09

Whirlpool Corp. To Pay Over $1 Million For Harassing Black Female Worker, Judge Rules In Bench Tria

EEOC Said Company Tolerated Verbal Harassment Culminating in Physical Assault

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a  final court judgment of $1,073,261 against Whirlpool Corporation in a race and  sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Carlota Freeman, an African American  former employee at the company’s LeVergne, Tenn.-based facility. The EEOC  alleged in its lawsuit that the appliance manufacturing giant failed to protect  Freeman from persistent harassment by a white male coworker, which ultimately  resulted in her being physically assaulted by him.

Following a bench trial, Tennessee District Court Judge  John T. Nixon last week awarded Freeman $773,261 in back pay and front pay, and  $300,000 in compensatory damages for nonpecuniary injuries – the maximum  allowed under federal law. During the  four-day trial, the evidence showed that Freeman reported escalating offensive  verbal conduct and gestures by the male coworker over a period of two months  before he physically assaulted her; four levels of Whirlpool’s management were  aware of the escalating harassment; Whirlpool failed to take effective steps to  stop the harassment; and, Freeman suffered devastating permanent mental  injuries that will prevent her from working again as a result of the assault  and Whirlpool’s failure to protect her.

“It is deeply disturbing that such a large and sophisticated  company would allow this sort of abuse to go unchecked – even up to the point  where serious physical injuries are inflicted on one of its employees,” said  Commission Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru.  “This significant monetary award

for a  single individual should put Corporate America on notice that there can be  extraordinary consequences for tolerating or overlooking egregious  discrimination. The EEOC will not stand  by while vulnerable workers like Ms. Freeman are forced to forego their  economic security and fear for their safety because of their race and/or sex.”

The EEOC filed suit against Whirlpool under  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in U.S. District Court for the Middle  District of Tennessee (Civil Action No. 3:06-0593) after first attempting to  reach a voluntary settlement through the agency’s conciliation process.

EEOC Regional Attorney Faye Williams said, “Whirlpool  unsuccessfully argued that because it had posted a policy prohibiting  harassment, the company relieved itself of responsibility for Ms. Freeman’s  injuries. However, the court correctly  pointed out that when those charged with enforcing a policy don’t take that  responsibility seriously, an employer has not met its duty under Title VII to  prevent and stop illegal harassment in its workplace.”

Carlota  Freeman intervened in the case and was represented by Nashville attorneys Helen Rogers and Andy  Allman. Whirlpool Corporation was  represented by the Littler Mendelson law firm out of Chicago.

EEOC Trial Attorney Steve Dills  said: “The purpose of equitable relief in  Title VII cases is to make whole the victims of discrimination. Unfortunately, the judgment in this case is a  bittersweet outcome because the injuries suffered by Ms. Freeman are so  devastating.”

According to its web site, Whirlpool  Corporation, with world headquarters in Benton    Harbor, Mich., “is  the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, with  annual sales of approximately $19 billion, 70,000 employees, and 68 manufacturing  and technology research centers around the world.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment  discrimination. Further information  about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.