When a workplace turns hostile, it is often not just one employee who suffers. Even when only a handful of employees come forward to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is often a sign that relief will take company-wide changes. At Ford harassment of women and African-Americans has been going on for decades. Find out what Ford Motor Company is doing to combat harassment in its Chicago plants. In this blog post I will discuss the recent Ford Motor Company settlement with the EEOC. I will explain when sexual harassment and racial discrimination can result in class action lawsuits. I will also explain how the EEOC's conciliation process can sometimes be used to avoid public embarrassment, and lengthy litigation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for employers to engage in or allow harassment or discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, as well as sex or gender. Employers are not allowed to make hiring or other employment decisions with these traits in mind. They are also required to take reasonable steps to stop discrimination or harassment from creating a hostile work environment for their employees.
When a Title VII complaint includes larger employers like Ford Motor Company, it often includes harassment against more than a handful of employees. In these cases, the EEOC or private workplace discrimination attorneys often pursue class action lawsuits for the benefit of all employees in the protected class.
Class action lawsuits can become large and complicated, including extensive testimony from affected employees, witnesses, and experts. They are also attractive to journalists, and can turn into bad press for the employer. What that happens, it puts the representative plaintiffs in the uncomfortable position of becoming the public face of a highly publicized lawsuit.
This can make a settlement attractive for everyone involved. EEOC investigations include a request that the parties voluntarily engage in conciliation, an informal mediation process, to resolve complaints. Many larger companies are willing to use conciliation, especially when there is a chance the complaints will lend themselves to a class action lawsuit. In those cases, employees may want to take advantage of the mediation process to resolve their cases more quickly and privately, while still getting the relief they need.
If employees do decide to use the EEOC conciliation process, it is a good idea discuss the matter with an independent employment attorney first. The EEOC often has the big picture in mind — looking for ways to make the workplace less hostile for the largest number of employees. If an individual claimant's damages or concerns are different or more severe than the average class member, those needs can sometimes be overlooked in the settlement process.
In August 2017, Ford Motor Company decided to take advantage of the EEOC's conciliation settlement to resolve complaints of workplace harassment of women and African-Americans. The charges claimed that personnel at the Chicago Assembly Plant and Chicago Stamping plant had subjected female and African-American employees to sexual and racial harassment. The EEOC's investigation also revealed evidence that Ford had retaliated against employees who complained about the treatment.
By entering into the settlement, Ford was able to avoid admitting liability for the harassment allegations.
Neither Ford nor the EEOC commented on how many employees were involved in the original charges. But the financial part of the settlement could apply to any of the company's 5,500 employees at the two plants who are women or African-American men working at the plant after January 1, 2010. To receive their portion of the settlement, employees will need to establish their eligibility through a process set out in the agreement.
A conciliation settlement can often resolve claims of workplace harassment of women, African-Americans, and other protected employees sooner and more discreetly than extensive litigation. But it isn't right for every case. If you are facing harassment at work, our experienced workplace harassment attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, can help you consider your situation, and your options through the EEOC and in court. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation and get your case started.