On July 31, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas entered a judgment against communications giant AT&T, Inc. The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of two male customer service technicians who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witness convention. AT&T paid $1,307,597 to satisfy the judgment.
In October 2007, a jury of nine women and three men awarded Jose Gonzalez and Glenn Owen $296,000 in back pay and $460,000 in compensatory damages for their Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 claim. During the four-day trial, the jury heard evidence that both men had submitted written requests to their manager in January 2005 for one day of leave to attend a religious observance scheduled to take place Friday, July15, through Sunday, July17.
Both men testified that they had sincerely held beliefs that required them to attend the convention each year. Additionally, they had attended the convention every year throughout their employment with AT&T. Gonzalez worked for the company for more than eight years, and Owen was employed with AT&T for nearly six years.
AT&T appealed the jury verdict to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court affirmed all aspects of the verdict. The award grew to $1.3million with the inclusion of interest and front pay. The trial court also granted the EEOC’s request for an order prohibiting AT&T from engaging in any employment practice that discriminates on the basis of religion. EEOC v. AT&T, Inc., DCAR Case No. 3:06-CV-00176, Eastern District.
Nationwide Freight Management Company Sued for National Origin Discrimination
On August 12, the EEOC filed suit against Propak Logistics, Inc., based in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The EEOC alleges that from October 1, 2002, through June 30, 2004, Propak engaged in unlawful employment practices by refusing to hire an entire class of people for nonmanagement positions at its Shelby, North Carolina, facility because of their non-Hispanic national origin. The EEOC complaint states that the company hired Latinos to the exclusion of equally or more qualified non-Latinos.
As you know, discrimination based on national origin is illegal, regardless of the background of the victims or the beneficiaries of the misconduct. In the lawsuit, the EEOC is seeking back pay for the victims, along with compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief. EEOC v. Propak Logistics, Inc., Civil Action No.3:09-CV-00347 DCNC, Western District.
Something To Look Forward To
Earlier this spring, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis commented on the level of enforcement activity employers could expect from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division in the upcoming months. She stated:
The Department’s Wage and Hour Division has already begun the process of adding 150 new investigators to its field offices to refocus the agency on [its] enforcement responsibilities. In addition, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the agency will hire 100 investigators to ensure that contractors on stimulus projects are in compliance with the applicable laws. . . . The addition of these 250 new field investigators, a staff increase of more than one-third, will reinvigorate the work of this important agency, which has suffered a loss of experienced personnel over the last several years.
As evidenced in the aforementioned cases, Solis meant what she said. Needless to say, it’s more important than ever that you are aware of and fulfilling your wage and hour obligations under the law. Failure to comply with DOL regs could prove to be quite costly.