Week Ending 3/4/16: EEOC v. Pallet Companies

Schorr and Associates' Case of the Week ending March 4, 2016

By Jenelle Hubbard

EEOC v. Pallet Companies, Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-00595-DRB; EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., Civil Action No. 2:16-cv-00225-CB.

This week we look at two lawsuits filed in federal court on March 1, 2016 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – one against Pallet Companies (d/b/a IFCO Systems NA, Inc.) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division and the other against Scott Medical Health Center, P.C. in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. These two cases are the first two sex discrimination cases that the EEOC has ever filed based on sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

To provide some background, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees of the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The EEOC is the federal agency that is responsible for interpreting and enforcing Title VII. While Title VII does not explicitly include sexual orientation as a basis on which it prohibits discrimination, the EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII.

 

In its lawsuit against IFCO Systems, the EEOC alleges that IFCO Systems unlawfully discriminated against a lesbian employee on the basis of her sex (female) by subjecting her to harassment which culminated in her discharge. For example, the EEOC alleges that the employer’s night shift manager began harassing the employee on a weekly basis, making comments such as “I want to turn you back into a woman;” “I want you to like men again;” and “Are you a girl or a man?” The EEOC further alleges that the employee complained about the night shift manager’s comments and behavior but no action was taken. When the employee complained about the night shift manager’s harassment and comments again on April 18, 2014, the EEOC alleges that she was terminated just a few days later in retaliation for making her complaints.

 

In its lawsuit against Scott Medical Health Center, the EEOC alleges that the Defendant employer subjected a gay male employee to a sexually hostile work environment perpetuated by the employer’s telemarketing manager. For example, the EEOC’s Complaint against Scott Medical Center alleges that the telemarketing manager routinely made unwelcome and offensive comments about the employee, including but not limited to regularly call him “fag,” “faggot,” “fucking faggot,” and “queer,” and making statements such as “fucking queer can’t do your job.” When the employee complained about the harassing behavior, the EEOC alleges that the employer expressly refused to take any action to stop the harassment and constructively discharged the employee as a result of the intolerable working conditions and the Medical Center’s failure to take prompt and effective action to prevent or alleviate it.

 

The EEOC brought both of these lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after the EEOC first attempted to reach pre-litigation settlements with IFCO Systems and Scott Medical Health Center through its conciliation process.

 

Where the EEOC does not resolve charges of employment discrimination through conciliation or other informal methods, the Commission may pursue litigation against private sector employers such as IFCO Systems and Scott Medical Health Center. However, the EEOC is exceptionally selective with respect to which cases they file suit on behalf of aggrieved persons. According to the statistics published on the EEOC’s official website, in the year 2015, 89,385 individual charges were filed with the Commission; the EEOC only filed 142 merit lawsuits in 2015 (which includes not only direct lawsuits and interventions alleging violations of the substantive provisions of the statutes enforced by the Commission, but also lawsuits to enforce administrative settlements).

 

In a prepared statement, the EEOC’s General Counsel David Lopez stated: “With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation.  While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so.”

 

In sum, the mere filing of these cases by the EEOC is significant and these cases will be very important to watch as they could lead to the benefit of court rulings on the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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