New York Fish Market Settles Race Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently settled a discrimination suit against New York-based fish wholesaler M. Slavin & Sons, Inc. for $900,000. The EEOC filed suit in December 2009 based on complaints by more than thirty employees of physical and verbal sexual harassment. According to the EEOC’s 2009 Press Release, some of M. Slavin’s owners and managers subjected certain non-Caucasian male employees, mostly African-American, to ongoing harassment including groping, offensive sexual comments, and racial slurs.

Some employees left the company because of the harassment, and the individual who first reported the harassment further alleges that he faced retaliation from M. Slavin managers. He claims that managers instructed other employees not to associate with him and threatened his life.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, claimed that M. Slavin violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, sex, and other protected categories. Discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment, and it encompasses actions against any gender. The law also protects people who seek to defend their rights from retaliation by their employer, and it allows employees to make claims against employers who create a hostile work environment based on race, sex, and other protected categories.

On December 15, 2011, the EEOC announced that M. Slavin had agreed to pay $900,000 to settle the lawsuit, in addition to providing other relief. As part of the settlement, the company is required to revise its policies on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, and submit to monitoring by the EEOC for a period of five years. The Company is also required to retain an independent consultant to handle discrimination complaints and must provide one-on-one training for the owners and managers who committed the worst acts of harassment. Finally, the Company is required to provide annual anti-discrimination training for all of its owners and managers, publicize the resolution of the lawsuit to all employees at the work site, and notify the EEOC of any and all new discrimination complaints.

Age Discrimination Presents a Problem for Older Job Seekers

Age discrimination in the workplace manifests itself not only in the form who gets fired, but also who gets hired. A study performed by AARP reviewing employment data for August 2011 found that job seekers age 55 or older spent an average of 52.4 weeks unemployed. In sharp contrast, the average length of time for younger job seekers was 37.4 weeks. The unemployment rate for applicants in the same age demographic jumped from about 3% in December 2007 to about 7% in August 2011, with rates roughly equal for men and women. By August 2011, nearly half of older job seekers met the criteria to be designated “long-term unemployed,” meaning they had been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

Not surprisingly, there appears to be a correlation between a faltering economy and age discrimination claims. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the most recent recession began around December 2007 and ended in about June 2009. Based on the EEOC’s Enforcement & Litigation Statistics, the number of age discrimination cases filed dramatically rose from 2007 to 2008 by 5,479 or about 29%. There was a relatively small decrease from 2008 to 2009 and a relatively small increase from 2009 to 2010. Overall, from 2007 through 2010, the EEOC saw about a 21% rise in age discrimination claims.

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees age 40 years old or older from age discrimination. The law prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating in hiring or firing, as well as pay, job duties, and other aspects of employment, because of age. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices provides similar protection for employees age 40 years old or older, but applies to employers with 6 or more employees.

Disability Discrimination Case Brought Against Kohl’s

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Portland, Maine alleges that Kohl’s Department Stores unlawfully discriminated against an employee based on her disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against the Wisconsin-based national retail store chain on behalf of Pamela Manning, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes. Manning worked at Kohl’s Westbrook, Maine store location. Because of her condition, she requires regular insulin injections. Beginning in January 2010, her complaint alleges, Kohl’s switched her full-time work schedule from a consistent daily schedule to an irregular one. This interfered with her daily routine of medical care. She presented her employer with a note from her doctor requesting that she have a regular work schedule, but Kohl’s refused to change it. She eventually developed health complications due to her inability to routinely administer her medications, and she had to quit her job with Kohl’s.

The EEOC filed suit in August 2011, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). It first attempted to settle the matter between Manning and Kohl’s through a conciliation process, which was unsuccessful. The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for Manning and a revision of Kohl’s policies relating to disability discrimination. The EEOC’s Boston office is handling the litigation. They argue that it would have cost Kohl’s nothing to maintain a set schedule for Manning, but the cost of failing to do so was potentially catastrophic for Manning.

Kohl’s filed a response on October 24 denying liability and disability discrimination. According to a report in the American Journal, Kohl’s acknowledged changing Manning’s schedule in January 2010 but denied allegations regarding its knowledge of Manning’s diabetes. Kohl’s also admitted to receiving the note from Manning’s doctor but denies refusing to accommodate Manning’s needs. It claims that it makes “good faith efforts” to accommodate its employees’ scheduling needs. The Journal article does not mention how Kohl’s reconciles these seemingly contradictory claims.

The EEOC is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. Its purpose is to investigate allegations of employment discrimination and enforce federal anti-discrimination laws like the ADA and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When an employee makes a complaint, the EEOC will investigate and make a finding or recommendation as to whether it believes unlawful discrimination occurred. Occasionally, it will file a lawsuit directly on behalf of an employee. More often, it will issue a “right to sue” letter that gives the employee a window of time to file a court claim with the help of an employment discrimination lawyer.

The ADA prohibits disability discrimination by employers, which can include an employer failing to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s needs. By allegedly failing to adjust Manning’s schedule to allow for her particular medical needs, the lawsuit is claiming that Kohl’s discriminated against Manning and therefore violated the ADA.

The Boston employment discrimination attorneys at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. specialize in employment law and exclusively represent employees. If you are a victim of disability discrimination, please contact The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. through our website or at (617)973-6434 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More Disability Discrimination Blog Posts by The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.:

Americans with Disabilities Act Violations Alleged in EEOC Lawsuit Against New Hampshire Company, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (October 25, 2011)
ADA Amendments Act Provides Employees with Greater Protection, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (December 15, 2009)
Handicap Discrimination Claim Succeeds Against Wal-Mart, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (August 12, 2008)