Lowe’s, Taco Bell Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced major settlements of two separate discrimination lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, one against Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse Inc. and the other, a week later, against Taco Bell Corp.

The settlement against Lowe’s was for $1.72 million and significant remedial relief on behalf of three employees in their twenties who EEOC said were subjected to a pervasive sexually hostile work environment and retaliated against for complaining about it. According to EEOC, the former employees, two young men and one woman, were subjected to widespread and repeated sexual harassment by male and female managers and coworkers at a Lowe’s store in Longview, Wash. The sexually hostile workplace, which endured for more than six months, included physical and verbal abuse which culminated in one instance of sexual assault.

Among the many allegations in the litigation (Civ. No. CV08-331 JCC in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington), EEOC said the female employee, age 21 at the time, was sexually assaulted by the 44-year-old male store manager in his office. Prior to the alleged assault, EEOC said she was implicitly propositioned for sex by the manager related to a recent promotion she received. EEOC asserted that Lowe’s not only failed to take prompt remedial action to stop the sexual harassment, but also fired the three victims in the case.

In addition to the $1.72 million in monetary relief for the three victims, the three-year consent decree resolving the case requires Lowe’s to provide comprehensive training to management, non-management, and human resources employees in all Washington and Oregon stores. Employees will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, and on their obligation not to harass or retaliate against any individual. Managers and supervisors will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, their obligation to provide a discrimination-free work environment, and their responsibilities if an employee complains about harassment or retaliation, or if they observe it. Human resources personnel will be trained on what constitutes harassment and retaliation, how to institute policies and practices to correct past discrimination and prevent future occurrences, informing complainants about the outcome of internal investigations, and the steps Lowe’s will take to assure a discrimination-free workplace in the future.

In addition to the comprehensive training and monetary relief, the consent decree requires Lowe’s to revise its sexual harassment and anti-retaliation policies, issue an anti-harassment statement to all employees in Washington and Oregon, revise its method for tracking employee complaints of harassment, and report regularly to EEOC on harassment and retaliation complaints which arise in Lowe’s 37 stores in Washington and 13 stores in Oregon during the term of the decree. According to company information, Lowe’s, headquartered in Mooresville, N.C., is the second largest home improvement retailer worldwide, operating 1,525 stores throughout the United States and Canada.

According to the terms of the settlement against Taco Bell, which EEOC filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis (Civil Action No. 2:07-cv-02579), the Irvine, Calif.-based company will pay a total of $350,000 in monetary damages to two teenage female workers whom the commission said were assaulted at one of the fast food chain’s locations in Memphis.

EEOC’s suit charged that Terence E. Davis, a former manager at Taco Bell’s restaurant No. 613 in Memphis, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old female employee on her first day of work. The commission said Davis sexually assaulted the young woman on the work premises and then tried to follow her as she fled home. EEOC said it also uncovered evidence during discovery that Davis had forcibly raped another 16-year-old female employee just five months earlier. The commission moved to amend its complaint to add the second female and asserted that it had sought her identity during the investigation of the charge. The court granted the motion and allowed EEOC to add her as a claimant. EEOC said it filed suit against the company after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

According to EEOC, Davis pled guilty in 2009 to raping both women and is currently serving two concurrent eight-year prison terms. Upon his release, Davis will be required to register permanently as a sex offender under the Sex Tennessee Sexual Offender and Violent Sexual Offender Registration, Verification, and Tracking Act of 2004. In addition, as a convicted rapist, Davis will never again be permitted to work in any job employing minors under the age of 18. EEOC noted it had no involvement in the criminal proceedings.

The two-year consent decree effects eight stores in the Memphis metropolitan area referred to by Taco Bell as Area 3082. In addition to paying the $350,000 to resolve the claims of the two harassment victims, Taco Bell will maintain a written policy against sexual harassment and will widely distribute it to all employees in Area 3082 within 30 days of the entry of the decree. The company will also conduct anti-discrimination training and posting of anti-discrimination notices.

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