A recent EEOC settlement may portend more litigation, especially for industries that employ large numbers of immigrants.
A case settled late last year alleged that Hispanic women working at a laundry on Long Island, N.Y., endured years of sexual harassment at the hands of their boss before a local advocacy group put them in contact with a law firm and the EEOC.
Before the case (EEOC v. Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc., Case No. 12-CV-409, E.D.N.Y., 2015) could go to trial, the laundry signed a consent decree that requires it to pay the women a $582,000 settlement.
The harassing manager got away with his harassing behavior—fondling the women and forcibly kissing them—in part because they did not know their rights. That ignorance, coupled with a language barrier, kept them largely captive on the job.
But when Latino Justice, a local advocacy group, became involved, things began to change. The New York law firm Outten & Golden joined the battle and the entire sordid tale was laid out for the EEOC.
It was exactly the type of case the EEOC targeted in one of the six prongs of its Strategic Enforcement Plan, an annual planning document that spells out where and how the commission will focus its investigative and prosecutorial resources.
A major emphasis of the EEOC’s enforcement plans: Strengthening connections to local advocacy groups. For employers that hire lots of immigrants, it may mean more litigation.
Advice: Employers can protect themselves by providing anti-harassment training to supervisors, especially those who manage vulnerable immigrant populations.
Additionally, let employees know they have avenues to report harassment internally without going to local advocacy groups or the EEOC. Be prepared to investigate complaints quickly and professionally and discipline managers who are in the wrong.
If communicating with immigrant workers is a problem, be proactive. Reach out to community resources. Employers that build bridges with advocacy groups may be able to engage with them to help resolve discrimination and harassment complaints internally, before the EEOC gets involved.