$4 Million
Racial Harassment Settlement
$2 Million
Sexual Harassment Settlement
$4.5 Million
Sexual Harassment Settlement
$3 Million
Racial Harassment Settlement

Friedman & Houlding LLP represents Doretha Steeples in her suit against Defendant BAE Systems Ship Repair, Inc., alleging a racially hostile work environment and related claims. Ms. Steeples, who is Black, began working as a skilled pipefitter at the BAE Norfolk shipyard in May 2018. Her Complaint alleges that a Caucasian coworker used racially derogatory language in front of her and others. The coworker referred to Black women as “ghetto-fabulous bitches” and “wratched-nasty hoes.” Soon after Ms. Steeples began working at the shipyard, the coworker stated in front of Ms. Steeples and others, “These fucking n*ggers get on my effin’ nerves.”

Witnesses corroborate Ms. Steeples’ allegations of racial harassment in sworn Declarations submitted with Ms. Steeples’ federal Complaint. BAE had received multiple complaints about the coworkers’ racial invectives on prior occasions. Even though BAE was already on notice of the co-worker’s racial abuse, nevertheless, Ms. Steeples reported the racial harassment to management, including to a BAE project planner and a BAE supervisor, who both stated that they would address the issue. Yet the harassment continued. Ms. Steeples endured comments from her coworker referring to Black employees as “n*ggerish” and other comments concerning the coworker’s boyfriend’s violent conduct around people of color, wherein the coworker would spew references to Black people as “n*ggers.”

When nothing was done to address the ongoing harassment, Ms. Steeples went to the Pipe Shop Foreman, Tony Featherstone, who assured Ms. Steeples that he would report her complaint to Human Resources. Ms. Steeples never heard from HR concerning her complaint.

Friedman & Houlding LLP clients Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons, and Jeffrey Taylor, have brought a Class Action suit on behalf of Black employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, alleging that the University has a pattern or practice of tolerating racial harassment against its Black employees, and that the office charged with investigating complaints of racial harassment is itself discriminatory in its handling of complaints.

One former Office of Access and Equity (OAE) Investigator, a non-party witness in the lawsuit, testified that she “was working in a hostile work environment,” describing the reasons that she left her employment at OAE (formerly ODEA), the office charged with investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Referring to Director of OAE, Heidi Johnson, the witness testified, “It was my perception and I believe the perception — because it was told to me by other colleagues, that Heidi favored our white colleagues.”

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The witness testified that she did not think Director Johnson treated employees of color in OAE equitably, describing Johnson’s indifference on issues concerning diversity and inclusion and personnel actions driven by bias, including stripping away the title of the witness, a person of color, without a stated basis, favoring White employees with less experience for promotions, and issuing the witness with a baseless disciplinary action. This treatment ultimately drove the witness to leave the University of Illinois after working many years as an OAE investigator.

Friedman & Houlding LLP represents 21 African-American Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Newport News Industrials, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls, which builds our Carriers and Subs. Some of our clients are veterans.

Plaintiffs are committed to obtaining justice in their long-running lawsuit alleging a racially hostile work environment. Evidence includes nooses at their workstations when they came to work, racist symbols and graffiti displayed openly throughout their workplace, including on t-shirts, headbands, tattoos, toolboxes and in bathrooms, and racial slurs. Plaintiffs testified that they were menaced with nooses, including by a supervisor, were addressed as “boy,” referred to as “n*gger” and were shown a video of white people dancing to Johnny Rebel singing “N*gger Hatin’ Me,” among other racist behavior. And many allege they were treated differently than their white peers when it came to being monitored.  A summary of the conduct the district court found supported Plaintiffs’ right to a jury trial can be found here.

This racism was supported with taxpayer dollars.

A Tennessee woman has filed a Complaint in Davidson County Chancery Court alleging that her employer, Motel 6, did nothing to protect her from harassment based on her HIV positive status–and that she was summarily fired for taking action after the hotel was sold to a franchisee. Friedman & Houlding LLP represents the Plaintiff, Jane Roe, who is proceeding under a pseudonym to protect her personal health information.

Roe worked at a corporate-owned Motel 6 location. When she began taking a medication that could cause dizziness, she informed the two on-site managers about her HIV status so they could take appropriate precautions to protect their own health in the event she fell and was injured on the job.

Roe alleged that one of the managers proceeded to engage in a campaign of harassment based on Roe’s HIV status, including telling numerous coworkers as well as hotel guests that Roe “has AIDS,” telling a pregnant co-worker not to use the employee restroom after Roe, leaving Clorox wipes in the bathroom as a reference to Roe being “unclean,” and mocking Roe by asking about her health, making comments like “you look swollen today, are you sure your health is okay?” Roe alleged that the conduct even escalated to harassing phone calls on the hotel line while Roe was at work.

A class of women working as truck drivers for CRST are waiting on a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that could revive claims that CRST retaliated against them by placing them on the equivalent of unpaid leave for complaining about sexual harassment. The  Complaint in  Sellars, et al. v. CRST Expedited, Inc., No. 1:15-cv-117 (N.D. Iowa), was filed in October 2015.  The women who brought this case were team truck drivers who were paired up with one co-driver to run long haul routes across the country. The drivers earned pay by the mile, switching off driving duties and sleeping in an onboard berth area so that the truck rarely needed to stop. The plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually harassed by male co-drivers and driving trainers, who they claimed subjected them to sexual come-ons, requests for sexual favors in exchange for good driver training feedback, offensive sexual touching–including waking up in the sleeper berth with a male co-driver on top of them, and even threats of violence if they would not comply with sexual demands. They alleged that even after CRST claimed it had banned any particular alleged harasser from driving with women, the women went on to be sexually harassed by subsequent male co-drivers. For some women, this was enough to push them out of the industry altogether.

Plaintiffs also alleged, on behalf of a class of women drivers, that when a woman on a truck complained she was being sexually harassed by her co-driver, CRST’s standard response was to remove her from the truck, with the effect of immediately stopping her pay, and letting the alleged harasser continue driving and earning money. Plaintiffs argued that this discouraged women from making complaints. The district court initially granted both a hostile work environment and a retaliation class, allowing the Plaintiffs named in the Complaint to represent other women with similar alleged experiences.   However, following discovery, the district court granted CRST’s motion to de-certify the hostile work environment class, and to dismiss both the retaliation class and individual claims.

This was not the end: the three named plaintiffs decided to appeal the dismissal of the class retaliation claim and their individual hostile work environment claims to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 19-2708, Sellars et al. v. CRST Expedited, Inc.). There, they argued that under very unusual circumstances such as these, where a woman may be harassed by multiple co-drivers sequentially, even if any particular alleged harasser might be banned from driving with women in the future, it can be sufficiently clear that harassment in the workplace is endemic that the employer is put on notice of the need to do more to address the problem. They also reiterated their argument that a pay cut inevitably deters women from complaining about sexual harassment, so taking women off their trucks as a response to their complaints is retaliatory. The Eighth Circuit heard oral argument on September 22, 2020, [available here: http://media-oa.ca8.uscourts.gov/OAaudio/2020/9/192708.MP3], and since then the women have been awaiting a decision. They hope to not only secure justice for themselves and other women at CRST, but to make clear once and for all that women should be free to come forward about sexual harassment in the workplace without fearing a pay cut.

This verdict of $910,000 is a reminder that employers are required to take prompt action when they become aware an employee is being sexually harassedAutozone’s failure to take action when it knew of the sexual harassment resulted in the highest sexual harassment verdict in North and South Carolina in 2018. The jury awarded $100,000 for emotional distress damages for Defendant’s violation of Title VII based on sexual harassment. It awarded $600,000 in punitive damages for the Title VII violation. In addition, the jury determined that the company was liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the Plaintiff, awarding $150,000 in damages for severe emotional distress, and an additional $60,000 in punitive damages. Because Title VII caps allowable damages, the verdict was initially reduced to a total of $510,000.

AutoZoners, LLC appealed the verdict, asking for a new trial, and alternatively asking the Court to throw out $150,000 in emotional distress damages, along with $260,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found there was no basis for a new trial, and that the jury’s award of damages for emotional distress under Title VII and “severe” emotional distress for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress was not duplicative. Thus, the Court upheld Plaintiff’s emotional distress damages award totaling $250,000, for violating Title VII and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, only vacating the punitive damages award, because of  the standards for holding a company legally responsible for such damages.

Employers are obligated to act promptly when they learn about ongoing workplace sexual or racial harassment. When employers ignore workplace harassment, the public will find out. Media coverage is an important tool for exposing and fighting workplace racism and sexism.

Media attention typically motivates employers to act quickly to remedy racial harassment to show the public that they take these issues seriously. An employer that acts promptly to correct the situation, in the face of this negative media attention, has an opportunity to foster a culture of tolerance, and potentially, to avoid liability for the harassment. However, when employers have knowledge of harassment and fail to act in the face of media coverage, their lack of concern for the victims of the harassment will be showcased for the public.
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Friedman & Houlding LLP routinely seeks production of e-mail, texts and video that contain racially and sexually offensive words and images, sent by managers. These are the same managers charged with enforcing the employer’s discrimination and harassment policy. More often than not, we find these same managers are downloading offensive material, and emailing the material to others at the employer. Courts have held this evidence admissible on whether the employer had an effective anti-harassment policy, the bias of those charged with enforcing the alleged anti-discrimination policy, and whether managers were negligent in responding to complaints.
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Friedman & Houlding LLP has a multi-disciplinary approach to civil rights advocacy. We believe civil rights have never been won solely or even primarily in court. Public struggle is protected activity under civil rights statutes and the First Amendment, and the press coverage of employer discrimination may serve as the modern-day equivalent of the sit-in or other demonstration.NY-Post-7-15-13-McQueen-Ibela-thumb-467x348-68931-1-300x224

Employers often view the threat of a jury verdict, or the cost of a settlement, as a cost of doing business (often covered by insurance), and fail to correct the problem that caused the lawsuit. That is why our firm always issues a press release when we file a case, which usually results in newspaper and/or television coverage.

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My town has wonderful open-minded people and great schools. It’s, a lovely community. So, the fact that young, African-American woman, had to bring a lawsuit against a local restaurant for employment discrimination, tells you that racial discrimination can rear its ugly head anywhere.

Abby, who is African-American, and Becca, who is white, are friends. This took place when they were seniors in high school. Becca was leaving her position at the Japanese restaurant where she worked as the Greeter. She had promised her manager she would bring someone in to replace her. When she introduced Abby to her manager, he said he could not use her because she was black. Abby filed suit for race discrimination, represented by Friedman & Houlding LLP.

17-small-page-1-thumb-525x726-55068-e1473176193892Page-2-thumb-149x202-27289At the same time she filed suit, the she organized a protest in front of the restaurant, which was reported in the press. Some of the signs carried by the protesters called for a boycott.

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