- AMI Mechanical Inc., a plumbing and mechanical contractor in Colorado, has agreed to pay $82,500 to two former employees to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- The EEOC said AMI created a hostile work environment by assigning its Latino plumbers to sewer duty while white plumbers with equal levels of experience were rarely or never required to work in the sewer. It also alleged that Latino plumbers were subjected to offensive comments and slurs. One of the workers complained, then a supervisor allegedly retaliated against him. He told him to return to the sewer, threatened to replace him and referred to him using a pejorative term, the EEOC said. The supervisor reportedly also noted in the worker's personnel file that he had caused problems and was not eligible for rehire.
- As part of a two-year consent decree, AMI agreed to review and revise its policies and procedures, encourage employees to report discriminatory conduct and provide training to its Colorado employees on how to prevent discrimination and retaliation. The company will also be required to post a notice in its Colorado worksites notifying employees of their right to a work in an environment free of national origin or color discrimination and retaliation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with 15 or more employees and forbids discrimination in employment on the basis of, among other things, national origin and color. The law bars discrimination in all terms and conditions of employment, including job assignments. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about unlawful treatment.
National origin discrimination involves treating employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country and/or because of ethnicity or accent, the EEOC says. Under federal law, it is also illegal for an employer or other covered entity to use an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of national origin, if it has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.
Harassment can include derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, accent or ethnicity. While the federal law doesn't protect against simple teasing or isolated incidents, harassment becomes legally actionable when it is so frequent or so severe that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or abusive.
The EEOC says in an enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination that Title VII's protections against national origin discrimination extend to all employees and job applicants regardless of their place of birth, authorization to work, citizenship or immigration status.
Employers can take various steps to prevent workplace harassment, including clearly communicating that harassment based on national origin will not be tolerated, adopting anti-harassment policies and procedures and disciplining employees who violate workplace anti-harassment rules.