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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Lockheed Pays Largest Race Discrimination Settlement

In yet another bitter reminder of how vulnerable employers are to the misbehavior of their supervisors, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced a $2.5 million settlement of a race discrimination lawsuit against the world’s largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin. The claimant was an African American electrician who was purportedly subjected to a racially hostile work environment at several job sites nationwide including threats of lynching and being called the “N-word.” Notably, the monetary relief for the former employee is the largest amount ever obtained by the EEOC for a single person in a race discrimination case, and one of the largest amounts recovered for an individual in any litigation settlement by the agency. Additionally, the Company agreed to terminate the harassers and make significant policy changes to address any future discrimination. The EEOC’s suit, filed in August 2005, alleged that the employee was subjected to severe racial harassment while working on military aircraft as part of a field service team that operated in several states. The EEOC charged that the employee was the target of persistent verbal abuse by co-workers and a supervisor whose racial slurs and offensive language included calling him the “N-word” and saying “we should do to blacks what Hitler did to the Jews” and “if the South had won, then this would be a better country.” The employee also claims that he was subjected to multiple physical threats, such as lynching and other death threats after he reported the harassment. According to the complaint, not only did the employer fail to discipline the alleged harassers, it allowed the offensive behavior to continue unabated even though the company was aware of the unlawful conduct. In announcing the settlement, EEOC officials took the opportunity to remind employers that it is imperative they take “proactive measures to ensure discrimination complaints are taken seriously and that all employees work in an environment free of harassment.” Race remains the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in charges brought to the EEOC, accounting for about 36% of the agency’s private sector caseload. According to EEOC statistics, racial harassment charge filings with EEOC offices nationwide have more than doubled since the early 1990s. On Feb. 28, 2007, EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp launched the Commission’s E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment), a national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focusing on new and emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace. Further information about the E-RACE Initiative is available on the EEOC’s website at http://www.eeoc.gov/ initiatives/e-race/index.html This case is a stark reminder that the behavior of the supervisory team carries significant legal consequences and that they must be trained to refrain from actions that create or condone an offensive work environment for others. Further, employers in California have an added legal duty under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to insure that race and other forms of prohibited discrimination do not occur in the first place and to promptly investigate and remedy such claims as soon as management is made aware of them. California state law also mandates preventive training on workplace harassment of all kinds, including sexual harassment. During a lawsuit or government investigation, evidence that an employer failed to conduct such training can be used to demonstrate that the company culture does not take such matters seriously. That kind of evidence can bolster an award of punitive damages. Richard S. Rosenberg is a founding partner of Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt, LLP, a management side labor law firm in Universal City. Mr. Rosenberg was recently selected as one of the 25 best lawyers in the San Fernando Valley. He may be reached at (818) 508-3700 or rrosenberg@brgslaw.com.

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