Owner Tormented Workers, Fired Those Who Complained, Federal Agency Charged
NEW YORK - Seapod Pawnbrokers, a chain of pawnshops in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., violated federal law when its owner harassed workers because of their sex, race, and ethnicity, and then fired workers for complaining, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC's suit, the harassment included referring to employees, most of whom were Hispanic, as "my Seapod bitches"; cursing at them; asking for graphic details about how they used toilet paper and tampons; and commenting about putting cameras in the women's bathroom. The owner threatened women with physical violence and termination; joked about women being his "whipping slaves"; and ordered them to "dance for me"; serve as his maid; and give him massages or belly rubs. The owner also openly disparaged his African-American customers, referring to them as "black bastards" and stating that the store smelled because "the monkeys are coming in." When the employees resisted his advances or complained about the harassment, he increased the hostility and, ultimately, terminated them, the EEOC said.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot subject employees to a hostile work environment because of sex, race, or national origin, and cannot retaliate against employees for resisting or making complaints. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Seapod Pawnbrokers, Inc., d/b/a Seapod Pawnbrokers, and Seapod Capital Group, LLC, d/b/a Seapod Pawnbrokers, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Case No. No. 14-CV-04567) after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC's suit seeks monetary relief for the affected workers as well as court injunctions meant to remedy and prevent any future harassment or retaliation at the company.
"This employer seemed to want to harass people based on everything he could think of - race, sex and national origin," said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District.
"Mistreating, insulting and punishing people simply because of their ethnicity or gender cannot be condoned or tolerated in the 21st century. The EEOC will take swift and firm action when vulnerable workers are targeted for abuse and harassment. We also will move quickly to enforce the law when workers are fired simply for taking steps to stop such abuse."
Thomas Lepak, the EEOC trial attorney assigned to the case, said, "The crude behavior of this 'equal-opportunity harasser' is totally unacceptable, and the EEOC is here to combat such misconduct. All employees deserve a workplace free of harassment and retaliation."
The six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) include targeting workplace harassment, particularly harassment of vulnerable populations.
The New York District Office of the EEOC oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The EEOC is the government agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's website at www.eeoc.gov.