Inappropriate Touching and Retaliation: Not a Good Mix

A female employee was repeatedly groped and grabbed by male supervisors and employees. When she complained, they retaliated against her.

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EEOC vs. Hufcor, Inc.

Katy Degenhardt was an employee of Total Quality Plastics (TQP), a division of Hufcor, Inc., as a machine operator from May 2007 to February 2013. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), TQP violated federal law when they retaliated against and fired Degenhardt for reporting sexually harassing behavior.

The charge states that since at least April 2009, Hufcor engaged in unlawful employment practices by violating Section 703(a) of Title VII at its TQP facility in North Prairie, Wisconsin. Degenhardt was regularly subjected to sexual harassment and inappropriate touching by male supervisors and employees, creating a sexually hostile and offensive work environment. Degenhardt repeatedly reported the harassment to Hufcor, but the plant manager retaliated against her for her complaints by denying her breaks, assigning her difficult work, trying to reduce her wages, denying her advancement opportunities and taking other adverse actions.

Hufcor’s conduct violates the Title VII, which protects employees from individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. The EEOC filed suit after an attempt to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process did not work.

Hufcor admits no wrongdoing, but has agreed to a consent decree in order to resolve the issue. The consent decree provides $120,000 in monetary relief to Degenhardt. It also requires Hufcor to train managers and supervisors with hiring and firing authority regarding the Title VII rights of applicants, employees, and former employees, with an emphasis on how to keep operations free from sexual harassment and on what constitutes unlawful retaliation. Every six months during the term of the consent decree, Hufcor must report any complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation involving alleged violations of Title VII to the EEOC.

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What is a Consent Decree?

A consent decree is defined as ‘an agreement or settlement to resolve a dispute between two parties without admission of guilt.’

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What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a legal requirements for a hostile work environment as:

  • Actions or behavior that discriminates against a protected classification such as age, race, religion, sex, or disability.
  • Behaviors that last over time and suggest a pattern of abuse – not an off-color remark or two.
  • Hostile behavior, actions, or communication severe enough to create an environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile, abusive, and that disrupts work or interferes with an employee’s career advancement.
  • Hostile situations known to the employer but that the employer does not take measures to remedy.

Lessons Learned

Employers should provide harassment training for both supervisors and their employees, as well as make sure that rules are equally enforced across all pay grades without exception. Additionally employers should establish a clear process for workers to report harassment or discrimination.

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