Rite Way to Settle EEOC Retaliation Suit
Federal Agency Wins $70,000 for Worker Who Was Fired for Helping With Sexual Harassment Investigation
Rite Way Service, Inc., a former Alabama corporation that provided janitorial cleaning services to commercial facilities in Mississippi and elsewhere in the Southeast, has agreed to pay $70,000 to a former employee to settle a federal lawsuit for unlawful retaliation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced.
According to the suit, Rite Way violated federal law by firing an employee in retaliation for participating in an internal investigation concerning a sexual harassment complaint made by a coworker, the EEOC charged in a lawsuit. Rite Way employed Mekeva Tennort to perform janitorial duties at Biloxi Junior High School. In August 2011, Tennort gave a statement to supervisors investigating a sexual harassment complaint by another employee. The Commission alleged that, soon afterward, Rite Way gave Tennort several written warnings about untrue supposed performance issues, and then fired her based on these unfounded accusations.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for opposing unlawful sexual harassment, including participating in an employer's internal sexual harassment investigation. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Rite Way Service, Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-00407-CWR-FKB) on June 27, 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the monetary payment to Tennort, the three-year consent decree settling the suit requires Rite Way to distribute its anti-discrimination policy to specific former Rite Way employees. Further, if during the term of the consent decree, Rite Way resumes doing business, it must develop and implement policies to prevent future discrimination and retaliation, train its managers, supervisors, and all employees on unlawful discrimination, and provide reports of its compliance to the EEOC.
"Preserving access to the legal system remains a national priority for the EEOC," said Delner Franklin-Thomas, director of the EEOC's Birmingham District Office. "This settlement demonstrates the Commission's ongoing commitment to protect employees who participate in workplace investigations from illegal retaliation."
EEOC Birmingham District Regional Attorney Marsha Rucker added, "This lawsuit and resulting settlement achieves the EEOC's objectives of providing specific relief to the victim and educating employers that Title VII not only protects those who file a charge of discrimination, but also for those who speak up during the course of a workplace investigation."
In FY 2016, the EEOC received 42,018 retaliation charges, which reflects 45.9% of all charges received.
According to company information, Rite Way now operates as a separate division of Diversified Maintenance Systems, LLC in the Southeast. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., Rite Way has over 40 years of experience in providing janitorial services to customer in manufacturing, industrial, office buildings, banking, education, government, healthcare and utilities.
The EEOC's Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.