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Firm settles with EEOC over mistreatment of lesbian worker

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A pallet management services company has agreed to pay $202,200 to settle one of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's first sexual orientation lawsuits, in a case involving a lesbian employee who was allegedly harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation.

The EEOC said Tuesday that the supervisor of an unnamed employee in Baltimore of Houston-based Pallet Companies Inc., a unit of IFCO Systems N.V., made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as, “I want to turn you back into a woman.” The EEOC said the supervisor also made sexually suggestive gestures to her.

IFCO allegedly retaliated against the employee by firing her just days after she complained to management and called the employee hotline to report the harassment, the EEOC said.

The EEOC, which filed suit against the company in March, charged it with violatingTitle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The two-year consent decree requires IFCO to pay $182,200 to the employee and donate $20,000 to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign Foundation, to support its Workplace Equality Program. It also enjoins IFCO from engaging in sexual discrimination or retaliation, among other provisions.

“This consent decree marks EEOC's first resolution of a suit challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation under Title VII,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, in a statement. “EEOC is committed to ensuring that individuals are not subjected to discriminatory treatment in workplaces based on their sexual orientation and looks forward to the day that this fundamental right is widely recognized.”

Philadelphia-based EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “We commend IFCO for working with us to resolve this case amicably and without engaging in protracted litigation.”

The company said in a statement, “The allegations in the EEOC's complaint do not reflect Pallet Companies' culture and its core values.” It said the company “provides a work environment in which everyone is treated fairly and with respect, without regard to his or her sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender, race, nationality, age, disability, religion, marital status, or political opinion. Rather than litigate with the EEOC, we looked at ways we could enhance our pre-existing commitment to a productive and discrimination-free workplace.”