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Blockbuster settles sexual harassment, retaliation charges for $2M


BALTIMORE—Blockbuster Inc. has agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle charges it had subjected female temporary employees to sexual harassment, then retaliated against them for resisting sexual advances and complaining, said the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC's Baltimore office said the Dallas-based video retailer, which has filed for bankruptcy, also subjected four of the seven workers involved, who are Hispanic, to national origin and racial harassment and other discrimination in 2004 and 2005 in its Gaithersburg, Md., distribution center.

According to the EEOC's 2007 lawsuit, supervisors Thomas A. Johnson, Kofi Tutu, Lincoln Barrett IV and other management personnel subjected Lolita Gonzales, her mother, Dolores Gonzales, and other Hispanic employees at the facility to harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the case of Lolita Gonzales, the alleged harassment included frequent requests for dates and sexual favors; making threats; inappropriately standing in close proximity; making sexual and other unwelcome sex-related inquiries; subjecting her to discriminatory work standards, hours and training opportunities; and racial comments.

Both women were dismissed on or about July 1, 2005, after Blockbuster had failed to take any “reasonable preventive or corrective action,” said the lawsuit.

EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement, “This case should act as a warning to all employers who use staffing agency personnel. Employers who are customers of staffing agencies have a responsibility to protect their temporary workers from unlawful discrimination. Too frequently, such employers fail to create systems to prevent and detect abuse of temporary workers and fail to respond forcefully to it. Those employers do so at their peril.”

Blockbuster’s bankruptcy petition is pending in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and it has discontinued its former business operations, according to the EEOC. A Blockbuster spokesman could not be located for comment.

Experts have warned that even though a staffing agency may cut a "a href="/article/20100124/ISSUE01/301249970" target="_new">temporary worker’s check, employers remain obligated to comply with state and federal employment laws, including discrimination statutes.