Two recent harassment cases are attention-getters because they illustrate the potentially high stakes damages to which employers are exposed.
The EEOC recently announced a final judgment of over $1 million against Whirlpool Corporation, which dropped its appeal to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ohio in a sexual and race harassment case. The case, which had been pending for over six years, included testimony that a white male coworker subjected an African-American female worker to repeated verbal abuse and gestures, as well as an assault resulting in injuries.
In a second case, a jury in federal court in New York awarded $25 million to a former steel plant employee who was found to have been subjected to a hostile work environment, filled with incidents of racial slurs, graffiti, signs, a noose and other racially offensive props. The employer and individual defendants failed to investigate or take corrective action with respect to repeated claims. In addition to the Title VII violations, the jury found the actions amounted to intentional inflection of emotional distress. Turley v. ISG Lackawanna, Inc., d/b/a Arcelor-Mittal Steel, Case No. 06-cv-794S (W.D.N.Y. 2012).
These cases reinforce the importance of employers having anti-harassment policies, as well as promptly investigating complaints and remedying those that are bona fide.