As we blogged about here previously, in the EEOC’s first draft of its Strategic Enforcement Plan, the Commission telegraphed that it was increasingly focused on preventing, and when necessary, litigating workplace harassment and retaliation allegations. The EEOC’s warning was no bluff, for in 2012 the EEOC filed a significant amount of harassment and retaliation lawsuits (discussed here, here, and here). The EEOC kicked off 2013 by entering a series of consent decrees resolving allegations of retaliation. One week after we blogged about the EEOC’s rash of retaliation settlements, Judge Kocoras of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved a consent decree in EEOC v. South Loop Club, Case No. 12-CV-07677 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 6, 2013), resolving allegations of sex harassment and retaliation. As we predicted in our EEOC-Initiated Litigation book, the EEOC’s SEP is functioning as the blueprint for the Commission’s enforcement activity. The recent consent decree in EEOC v. South Loop Club signals that the EEOC continues to vigorously pursue its stated “big six” agenda items enunciated in its SEP.
Background Of The Consent Decree
The case began when five women who worked at South Loop Club, a Chicago bar and restaurant, filed charges with the EEOC alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII. Pursuant to its statutory obligations, the EEOC investigated the charges and found reasonable cause to believe that the Defendant discriminated against the charging parties. Through the EEOC’s investigation, the Commission allegedly found reason to believe that the Defendant also discriminated against an unnamed “class” of female employees. In July 2013, the parties discussed conciliation, but their efforts were fruitless.
Two months later, the EEOC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that the Defendant discriminated against a “class” of female employees by subjecting them to harassment because of their sex, retaliating against them, and constructively discharging them as a result of the sexual harassment. The EEOC asserted that the Defendant harassed the charging parties by subjecting them to repeated acts and comments of a sexual nature that were demeaning and unwelcome. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that the Defendant made comments about the female employees’ bodies and touched female employees’ bodies. In October, four additional employees moved to intervene and filed a complaint. After a series of status hearings before Judge Kocoras and before the parties even initiated discovery, they settled the litigation and filed a joint motion for entry of a consent decree. The next day, Judge Kocoras signed the parties’ motion.
Terms Of The Consent Decree
Judge Kocoras granted the EEOC’s motion for approval of the consent decree, which provides significant monetary relief to the allegedly aggrieved victims of sex harassment and retaliation (to the tune of $64,000). The consent decree also provides that the Defendant will pay $36,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to counsel for the intervening plaintiffs.
In terms of equitable relief, the consent decree includes injunctions prohibiting the Defendant from future sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation, including forbidding the toleration of a work environment that is sexually hostile to employees. Additionally, the Defendant must adopt a policy and training to prevent sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and retaliation.
Implications For Employers
Although the monetary amount of this settlement is not as significant as some of the multi-million consent decrees the EEOC secured last year (discussed here and here), this case provides insight on the EEOC’s continued interest in pursuing harassment and retaliation lawsuits. Notably, much is at stake for employers that the EEOC investigates for discriminatory harassment and retaliation actions. EEOC v. South Loop Club serves as a reminder to employers that when employees complain about workplace harassment, employers must take prompt action. Implementing a policy that requires an investigation of reported harassment or discrimination can aid in avoiding employer liability, and also work toward the goal of discrimination-free workplaces.
Readers can also find this post on our Workplace Class Action blog here.