$230,000 in Racial Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Utah Construction Company, Training Ordered

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Question:  Would racial harassment training have prevented this case?  See our trainings at http://www.hrclassroom.com.
Utah construction company Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc. will pay three former employees $230,000 and improve its future employment practices to settle a race harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC filed suit against Holmes in September 2010, charging that the company subjected Antonio and Joby Bratcher and a class of African-American employees to racial harassment and retaliation. In a ruling last year, Judge Dale A. Kimball found that the Bratchers and class member James Buie were subjected to an objectively hostile work environment based on race. The court observed that the site superintendent, Paul E. Facer, referred to the African-American employees as "n----rs" or a variation of that word almost every time he spoke to them. Other Holmes employees used the term "n----r-rigging" while working there, and racist graffiti was evident both inside and outside portable toilets on the work site. Finally, the EEOC charged. Holmes fired one of the harassment victims for complaining about it.

The court also noted that the employer's anti-harassment policy was "unreasonable as a matter of law" because it directed employees to report harassment to their harassing supervisor with no alternative means to bypass that supervisor.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC et al. v. Holmes & Holmes Indus., Inc., No. 10-CV-955, D. Utah) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The Bratchers intervened in the EEOC's suit and alleged claims under Section 1981.

The $230,000 to be paid to the victims is the maximum Holmes would have to pay if all Title VII claims were won at trial for all three victims; each victim will receive $50,000 for compensatory damages, the maximum cap under the 1991 Civil Rights Act, and one victim will receive $80,000 in back pay because he was fired.

In addition to the monetary relief, Holmes also committed to implement several affirmative steps to prevent and address race-based conduct on the worksite. These measures include: a comprehensive training regimen on discrimination (including racial discrimination and harassment); discussions of harassment in work site meetings on a monthly basis; the provision of an external ombudsman to receive and investigate complaints of discrimination or retaliation; and a detailed review and revision of Holmes' policies and procedures concerning protected-class discrimination and retaliation.

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