EEOC Targeting Cases of Years-Old Discrimination — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

EEOC Targeting Cases of Years-Old Discrimination

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Don't think that an employee who quietly suffers name-calling for years can't sue. Courts and the EEOC won't be swayed by your argument that "he put up with it for 20 years, so how bad could it have been?" In fact, employees can sue by claiming that such long-term abuse is a "continuing violation" of their right to work in a harassment-free environment.

They must show that the harassment constituted a pattern, rather than just an isolated incident. If the name-calling continued, each incident can be tied together into a long string of discrimination, reaching back into time.

The EEOC is pursuing continuing-violation cases aggressively. As a result, employers who ignore harassment because an employee stoically endures it may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Recent case: Mathen Chacko emigrated from India in 1975 and worked as a corrections officer at a Maryland prison for 20 years before retiring. During those years, co-workers frequently called him such names as "camel jockey" and told him to "go back home and ride your camel." He claimed that supervisors joined in the laughter and told him that they couldn't stop employees "from talking."

Chacko complained several times about other forms of discrimination but never explicitly about the name-calling. Still, a judge let his case go to trial and a jury awarded him more than $1 million in damages. An appellate court later reversed the award on a technicality, but it invited Chacko to refile his suit. (Chacko v. Patuxent Institutions, No. 04-1577, 4th Cir. 2005)

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