The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently settled a national origin discrimination suit against Sierra Pacific Industries for $95 thousand. Sierra, which is based in Redding, CA, owns and harvests forests in California and Washington.
In June 2008, the EEOC filed a national origin discrimination and retaliation suit against Sierra in district court. According to the EEOC lawsuit, after 9/11 Sierra employees began calling an Egyptian coworker, Ahmed Elshenawy, such names as “Osama,” “camel jockey,” “f___ing Arabian,” and “Saddam.” When Elshenawy complained to his superiors, the company did nothing to stop the name calling. In fact, Sierra’s failure to do anything emboldened Elshenawy’s coworkers to continue calling him names. Eventually Sierra terminated Elshenawy, an act which the EEOC called retaliation.
Sierra argued that Elshenawy was not discharged because of his national origin, but because he was a serial sexual harasser. According to a Sierra company spokesperson, “Sexual harassment is something we take very seriously. We will not tolerate it in our company and will terminate employees who have harassed others.” However, Sierra did not produce any evidence to support that Elshenawy committed any sexual harassment acts.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963 prohibits harassment based on national origin. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report harassment claims.
In addition to paying $95 thousand in damages, Sierra’s two year settlement consent decree requires the company to conduct yearly training of employees, report any future complaints of national origin discrimination or retaliation, and revise its anti-discrimination policies and post information regarding the decree for current employees. After the settlement, Sierra issued a statement that the $95 thousand settlement was not an admission of liability for national origin discrimination. “We only agreed to settle the case in order to stop spending money and to free the courts of a merit-less case.”
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