Male Employees Fired for Opposing Harassment of Female Coworkers
Company must pay $1.4 million to workers who complained
One of the biggest reasons that people don’t speak up about unlawful
activity at work may be that they fear for their jobs.
They may worry that they’ll get fired, be denied key opportunities,
or given undesirable schedules or job assignments.
Fortunately, federal law provides protection from retaliation for workers
who have made complaints about unlawful activity. That protection goes
into effect whether the worker was complaining on his or her own behalf,
or on behalf of someone else.
A recent case does a good job of illustrating how retaliation may be handled
in the courts. Let’s take a look.
Extra requirements for promotion
When Z Foods acquired Zoria Foods, it ended up with a lot more than the
company’s holdings, assets, and employees; it also acquired a sexual
It seems that two male supervisors at Zoria had a reputation for attempting
to pressure female employees into giving them sexual favors. According
to a lawsuit filed by several employees, the men attempted to coerce sex
from female workers in exchange for promotions. The supervisors also allegedly
stalked female staffers, leered at them, and engaged in unwanted touching,
such as hugging and kissing.
The women complained to management about the situation but they say nothing
was done. Several male employees who witnessed the behavior also complained.
When Zoria was eventually sold to Z foods, the supervisors may have seen
it as an opportunity to get rid of some so-called troublemakers. Seven
of the 10 workers who complained were denied jobs at the new operation.
The ten female and male employees complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), the agency charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination
laws. The agency sued both Zoria Farms and Z Foods on their behalf, alleging
that the workers were denied jobs in retaliation for their previous complaints.
The case against Zoria was settled in 2015. The employees received $330,000.
The case against Z Foods, however, went to trial. There, the company lost big time.
The court awarded the workers $1,470,000, which is the maximum amount allowed
by law (offset by the previous award). The judge asserted that the workers
had been subjected to severe emotional distress because of the actions
of Z Foods.
The company must also submit to EEOC oversight for the next five years.
(For more on this case, see EEOC v. Z Foods.)
It’s not OK
Unscrupulous employers or managers may sometimes play on people’s
fears related to job security in order to allow unlawful behavior to continue.
However, no one should have to feel that they have to compromise themselves
in order to retain their jobs. It’s important to remember that federal
law can protect you from retaliation.
If you feel that you’ve been retaliated against after making a complaint
of unlawful activity, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney to
find out more about your rights.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.