If plaintiffs’ accusations in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Braun Electric Company et al. are true, the claimant Samara Schmidt and others similarly situated were subjected to sexual harassment so severe and pervasive that it created a hostile work environment and effectively forced Schmidt to resign. The complaint refers to an array of extremely offensive sexual comments and behaviors, all of which were clearly unwelcome and brought many unanswered complaints to the company’s managers and human resources staff.
The EEOC alleges that the company knowingly failed to investigate, prevent, or correct this pattern of continuous harassment by the manager at the center of the complaint. “Despite multiple complaints of sexual harassment…beginning in 2004,” the state, “Braun finally got around to conducting an investigation in August 2010. Sadly, Bruan’s HR Manager Wood conducted only a cursory investigation…purposefully ignoring evidence that Robertson’s conduct was not an isolated incident directed at one employee. Despite being aware that other employees were present for Robertson’s comment, HR manager Wood decided to just interview Miller, never entertaining the idea of interviewing percipient witnesses.” Wood allegedly made “no efforts to ascertain whether Robertson had previously engaged in such conduct, as Wood ‘just didn’t think that was true…'” In the end Robertson received only a written warning that had no material consequences for his working life or career. There was no meaningful discipline, and no monitoring to ensure that the behavior would not continue. According to the plaintiff’s and claimants’ allegations, this was only the first of several complaints about sexual harassment that led to no action.
The terms of the settlement, approved by the District Court for the Eastern District of California on October 15, 2014, are not unusual for EEOC cases of this kind: claimants will receive monetary relief in the amount of $82,500; the defendant agrees to refrain from discrimination and retaliation for complaints made under Title VII; the defendant will retain and an Equal Employment Opportunity Monitor to oversee the administration of the settlement and “bear all costs associated with the selection and retention of the Monitor and the performance of his/her duties”; the defendant will be required to “review, implement, distribute and post its companywide policies and procedures against employment discrimination prohibited by Title VII,” following the Commission’s recommendations; the defendant will implement a sustained program of regular training for managers, non-managers, and human resources personnel regarding unlawful harassment and the proper handling of harassment complaints by employees; and the defendant will submit reports about the administration of these policies to the EEOC.
Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, stated that “the policies, procedures, training, and monitoring that Braun Electric has agreed to put in place will go a long way toward protecting employees from harassment.” Director Melissa Barrios of the Commission’s Fresno Local Office added: “As agents of the employer, supervisors and managers should act as role models and promote an environment free of harassment. Employers should make sure that supervisory staff is trained not only on the laws against workplace harassment, but also on how to effectively prevent and address such issues.”