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 harassment problem.
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.