November 30, 2012

Yosemite-Area Resort Settles Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Charges
-- The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing federal discrimination in employment laws. --

    November 30, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The operating company of Tenaya Lodge near California's Yosemite National Park settled an employee complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation, according to a November 2012 news release by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, called the EEOC.

Following an investigation by the Fresno Local Office of the EEOC, the company settled the complaint for $195,000 without admitting any liability.

Role of the EEOC

The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing federal discrimination in employment laws. With more than 50 field offices across the country like the Fresno office, the agency is empowered to investigate complaints of illegal discrimination in the workplace. (Most employers other than those with very few employees are subject to the equal employment opportunity laws the agency enforces.)

These federal laws forbid discrimination in any aspect of employment based on certain worker characteristics like race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, age, disability or genetic information. Also outlawed is retaliation for complaining, filing or supporting a discrimination charge.

If the EEOC finds discrimination has occurred, it tries to negotiate a settlement with the offending employer. If settlement is not possible, the agency has the discretion to file a lawsuit in the matter.

The Tenaya Lodge complaint

According to the agency press release, a female worker at the lodge filed an EEOC complaint in 2010 in which she alleged that a male supervisor made inappropriate comments, including a reference to a picture of a "sexual nature." The victim said that the supervisor illegally retaliated against her with discipline and differential treatment after she complained about the previous sexual harassment.

The Fresno office found "reasonable cause" of sexual harassment and retaliation against the complaining worker and also against other female employees. The employer, employee and EEOC settled the case by agreeing to a one-year conciliation agreement pursuant to which the lodge will pay the victim $100,000 and $95,000 will be placed into a fund to remedy the treatment of others who were subject to the same treatment.

The employer also agreed to increase training and notices about equal employment opportunity laws, to report discrimination to the agency and to issue a press release about the settlement.

California state discrimination laws

Federal discrimination laws that apply in the workplace are complex, but can provide significant relief to those targeted by illegal activity at work. State laws may provide additional or better legal remedies. For example, workers in California should investigate whether the state Fair Employment and Housing Act, known as FEHA, applies in their discrimination cases. FEHA often has provisions that make it easier to find liability and that offer more generous damages.

An example of FEHA being more generous than federal law is in the definition of who is a supervisor for purposes of illegal harassment. Federal law is currently unsettled, but the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2012 heard a case on this issue entitled Vance v. Ball State University.

Federal appeals courts are split on the definition of "supervisor," with some circuits requiring that a supervisor have the power to fire, hire, promote, demote, discipline or transfer other employees, and other circuits adopting a broader definition, supported by the EEOC, that for purposes of harassment a supervisor can be anyone who oversees or directs daily work activities. The Supreme Court's decision in Vance expected in mid-2013 could further clarify the federal definition.

Under California's FEHA, however, the law specifically spells out a broad definition of "supervisor" for purposes of illegal workplace discrimination and harassment. Beyond the expected supervisory powers of hiring, firing and similar acts, FEHA also calls workers "supervisors" who can "reward," "direct," "adjust ... grievances," or "recommend that action," or if in any supervisory activity they exercise "authority ... not of a merely routine or clerical nature," but requiring "independent judgment."

If you face wrongful treatment in your job that feels like discrimination, harassment or retaliation, consult an experienced and knowledgeable employment law attorney for guidance about your rights and potential legal remedies under both federal and state employment discrimination laws.

Article provided by The Rubin Law Corporation
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