Family-Owned and -Operated Business Pays $80,000 to Settle Class Claims of Sexual Harassment by Owner Occurring in 2006-2007
HOUSTON - Finch Air Conditioning and Heating, Inc., located in La Porte, Texas, has agreed to pay $80,000 to settle claims of sexual harassment and constructive discharge of female employees brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. In the suit (Civil Action No. 4:09-cv-03156), the EEOC alleged that female employees at Finch were routinely subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the civil rights/employment discrimination statutes the EEOC is charged with enforcing.
According to the EEOC, the owner of the family-owned and -operated business used his position and power to harass young female employees, including Kristal Hargett, by, among other things, commenting on his own sexual preferences and asking them questions about theirs, touching them inappropriately and without their permission, including forcing one employee’s hands on his private parts, and menacing and frightening employees into silence about his conduct. The EEOC also alleges that sexual harassment of Hargett by male co-workers was condoned within the workplace.
Sexual harassment and constructive discharge, i.e., being forced to quit one’s job because of intolerable conditions, violate Title VII. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
The settlement terms, set forth in a consent decree signed and entered by U.S. District Judge David Hittner, require Finch to pay $80,000 to compensate Hargett and other class members for the sexual harassment they suffered. The decree also contains provisions to ensure that Finch’s owner, managers and employees are properly trained to fully understand and comply with employment discrimination laws. In addition, Finch is required to maintain policies and procedures for addressing illegal discrimination in the workplace, including effective complaint procedures, as well as guidelines for investigating complaints of discrimination. All such policies must be approved by the EEOC.
“Cases of sexual harassment are not limited to large corporations,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher. “Often, the most egregious instances of sexual harassment occur in small businesses that lack appropriate complaint policies and procedures. Employees have no one to whom they can complain when the harasser is the owner. This settlement is a big step in ensuring that women in such workplaces are not subjected to the untenable choice of putting up with harassment or losing their jobs.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.