Sexual Harassment Suit with Horrendous Facts Leads to Mandatory Training

A lawsuit filed by the EEOC in the Middle District of Alabama against Hyundai contractor Sys-Con, LLC., has settled for $70,000, according to a recent press release by the EEOC. As the agency has stepped up enforcement actions in the wake of the #MeToo era, more organizations are facing significant settlement and conciliation penalties to avoid sexual harassment-related litigation.

What makes the Sys-Con settlement interesting is the extremely misogynistic and grotesque fact pattern, and the fact that the lawsuit included allegations evidencing a total disregard for a respectful workplace and/or desire to prevent incidents of harassment within the organization. A total disregard for promoting a respectful work environment makes it easy to fall into the trap of repeated harassment and subsequent retaliation, as the facts in the Sys-Con case alleged.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, between 2015-2017 a supervisor at Sys-Con’s facility within a Hyundai manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama demanded sexual favors from two non English-speaking female employees and routinely watched pornographic videos in front of them. The lawsuit also alleges the supervisor sexually assaulted one of the employees and then subsequently taunted her, asking questions such as whether “she liked it.” If all of that wasn’t bad enough, the lawsuit claims the supervisor threatened to fire both victims and their husbands (also Sys-Con employees) if they reported the alleged misconduct.

The facts of this case are extremely egregious, and while the lawsuit demonstrates EEOC’s commitment to enforcing workplace civil rights laws, the reported $70,000 settlement seems light when viewed in context with other similar cases that are brought in private litigation. In addition to the $70,000 payment Sys-Con was ordered to take preventive actions to prevent something like this from ever happening again, including (but not limited to) conducting annual training for managers, supervisors, and other employees, with an emphasis on harassment.

Mandated harassment training has become a frequent point of emphasis in EEOC and state fair employment agency consent decrees. What is most telling about that fact is the number of organizations who are not proactively training their workforces on the importance of learning about (and stopping) incidents of harassment before they become repeated actions and/or hostile work environments.

The Sys-Con case illustrates the “Grand Slam” of incidents within an organtion: hostile environment, quid pro quo harassment, sexual assault and retaliation. When an organization is hit with this type of a grand slam it is clear it is not doing enough to prevent these types of incidents.

Cases like the Sys-Con lawsuit are becoming more frequent in the wake of the #MeToo era as victims begin to feel empowered to report misconduct. Additionally, consent decrees like the one issued in this case are emphasizing organization-wide training campaigns aimed at educating workforces on how to spot and intervene when harassing or disrespectful behavior is occurring. As employees become more comfortable reporting these types of incidents we will see their numbers actually decrease. After all, harassment knowledge is power, and removing the power imbalance in the harassment space is the first step in eliminating the problem.

How the EEOC is Revamping Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment

As the United States continues to grapple with how to best respond to the spate of complaints and press about workplace harassment, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) further explores new avenues to addressing this concern. In 2016, the EEOC published its “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace,” a report which looked into other resolution approaches, including focus on and training related to workplace civility and bystander intervention. Businesses are carefully monitoring the EEOC’s efforts and progress on this issue as it presents among the most forward-thinking regulatory programs to prevent and stop illegal conduct through voluntary measures that also present an economic benefit to organizations.

This week, the EEOC expanded on these efforts. Some 200 attendees were present at Wednesday’s EEOC morning-long Public Meeting on “Revamping Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment”, to hear testimonies from seven panelists with expertise in unions, research, legal practice, boards of directors and institutional education.

The meeting’s discussion explored the following topics:

Harassment claims continue to rise in the wake of the #MeToo movement. EEOC commissioners reported a significant rise in harassment complaints this year over 2017. And not only sexual harassment—reports of other forms of harassment based on protected categories continue to rise.

Narratives collected that tell of individuals’ stories harassment are compelling. Stories of sexual harassment and abuse, and other forms of harassment, provide strong testimony regarding the perils of this problem. EEOC has begun using some of these stories to help businesses appreciate the gravity of the problem, not just in terms of numbers but also regarding lives harmed. One principal concern is that reporting harassment is such a challenge for many employees that this effort needs to be balanced with related rewards: trust in the organization’s processes for handling complaints, knowledge of the report’s outcome, greater recognition the the reporter did the ‘right thing’, etc.

Harassment hurts business. Some discussion echoed prior EEOC research and guidance that businesses suffer from harassing conduct: low morale, lost productivity, departing employees, among other problems.

A holistic effort is needed within institutions to solve the problem; one solution will not work. The solution must be a combination of leadership and culture, policies and procedures, training, leadership and employee accountability.

Culture and leadership are priority. Without leadership guiding the way to a change in corporate culture that will not tolerate any form of harassing conduct, all the policies, procedures and training will not produce the needed effect. The commissioners and panelists often returned to the importance of these issues in making continuing and sustained progress in eliminating workplace harassment.

Training quality is more important than the type of training. The meeting raised the ongoing discussion of online versus live training, with examples of where each worked well. The deeper discussion involved what elements of training provided the best results:

  • Legalistic training that focused on the definition of harassment appeared to be shortsighted.
  • Contextual and behavioral training is viewed as more effective, which such topics as involved why harassment occurs (abuse of power), how it affects victims, what steps that victims and bystanders can take, barriers to overcome to encourage employees to raise concerns. Also, the meeting elicited the importance of conversations about proper and improper conduct as part of an effective solution.

Accountability is key. If leadership is not held accountable for influencing a harassment-free workplace and harassers are not disciplined for their conduct, then the commissioners and panelists expect little progress to be made.

Bystander awareness and intervention may significantly lessen the problem. The more that individuals in a workplace are willing and able to call out negative behaviors as they occur, the less that harassers will feel they can get away with their conduct or that it’s implicitly condoned. This was identified as a key component in a shift within an organizational culture.

Workplace civility may be a critical tool. Panelists indicated that shifting the focus from negative conduct to positive, affirmative behaviors has a number of benefits:

  • It changes the point of view toward more acceptable workplace practices, which employees are more comfortable addressing, than negative behaviors, which employees may have a harder time dealing with.
  • It helps to call out minor, undesirable conduct before that conduct rises to a level considered as harassment, much less illegal harassment.
  • It focuses the employees’ conduct on an organization’s policy rather than the law, which often articulates a lower level of questionable conduct as improper.

Syntrio continues to monitor the EEOC’s progress and harassment issues in the public sphere as we strive to develop training that enables individuals and organizations to promote respectful workplaces that value all individuals and that prevents or quickly and effectively deals with harassment of any kind.

EEOC Releases Preliminary Findings on Fiscal Year 2018 Charge Statistics

Those of us that have an interest in the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge and litigation statistics eagerly await the release of new data toward the beginning of each calendar year. Perhaps never has a fiscal year’s statistics been more eagerly anticipated than that of fiscal 2018. As you are undoubtedly aware, the latter half of 2017 was the advent of the #MeToo movement, which sparked awareness about sexual harassment and sexual assault both in the workplace and out. It just so happens that July 2017 marked the beginning of fiscal 2018, which means the upcoming release of statistics gives us our first glimpse into what the post #MeToo EEOC statistics will look like.

Perhaps never has a fiscal year’s statistics been more eagerly anticipated than that of fiscal 2018

Like a trailer for an upcoming Hollywood movie (which is ironic because Hollywood was where the #MeToo fire was lit), today the EEOC released some of its preliminary findings on its charge enforcement during fiscal 2018. As expected, the results are staggering. It is important to note that the EEOC did not release the 2018 data in the traditional form of updating a chart of charges. Instead, it included the preliminary data in a news release entitled “What You Should Know: EEOC Leads the Way in Preventing Workplace Harassment.” Within this document was contained the data we have all been waiting for (or at least important pieces).

The EEOC investigated at least 800 more sexual harassment charges since the advent of the #MeToo movement

While touting its efforts to “vigorously combat workplace harassment” the EEOC casually mentioned, “[c]harges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017.” Given we know that there were 6,696 sexual harassment based charges filed in fiscal 2017, the reported increase translates to at least 7,499 charges filed in 2018. Alternatively stated, the EEOC investigated at least 800 more sexual harassment charges since the advent of the #MeToo movement. This is clearly significant.

The EEOC release also states two other significant findings. First, consistent with the EEOC’s statement that the agency would be filing more lawsuits on behalf of victims, the report states that the number of lawsuits indeed rose by 11 (a 50% increase). This is significant because it means the EEOC is investing key resources into prosecuting cases as well as investigating them, which spells a new type of trouble for employers of all sizes. The EEOC also reports that it recovered $70 million for victims of harassment through its enforcement and litigation procedures. This was up from $47.5 million in fiscal 2017.

The EEOC also reports that it recovered $70 million for victims of harassment through its enforcement and litigation procedures.

The significance of this document cannot be understated, not just in the shocking increase in numbers, but also the EEOC’s new method of promoting its efforts to investigate, stop, and punish those employers who allow incidents to occur. It will not only be interesting to see if 2018 is an outlier (or more likely) the start of a trend. In either event, employers should be more interested than ever in making sure their employees receive the proper training to prevent incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

Contact for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.

Employers Beware: New EEOC Flyer Targets Younger Employees

On July 22, 2016, the EEOC released a one-page information sheet that explains how religious discrimination impacts employee job rights. The flyer explains that it is illegal for employers to treat their employees differently or harass them based on religious practices or beliefs. Sounds informative, until you dig a bit deeper into the sheet and learn a bit about the historical context at work here.

In the past 20 years the number of religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC has more than doubled, from 1,709 in 1997 to 3,502 in 2015, but those numbers do not tell the whole story, as there are a number of factors at work leading to that increase. When we examine the picture within the picture, the number of charges spiked dramatically in fiscal 2008-2013, going from 2,880 charges in 2007 to 3,273 in 2008 all the way to 4,151 in 2011 before gradually declining from 2012-2015. Not surprisingly, the spike in charges in the years following the Great Recession coincides with an extreme risk of layoff for EEOC investigatory agents. 

While the EEOC is charged with investigating and conciliating charges of discrimination in the United States, they are anything but a friend of employers, and have long been known to seek “target rich” sectors within the workforce. With 2016 being an election year, the new flier unabashedly seeks younger employees as Plaintiffs to keep the agents employed in a new administration. The flier is not ironic in its attempt to target younger workers, as shown in the paragraphs below.

First, the flyer itself is entitled “Youthwork,” and the title is spelled out in a kitschy “Comic Sans” font. Next, the three examples of employees subject to alleged discrimination are a) a barista on summer break; b) an “after school” grocery store cashier; and c) a student working in a clothing store. The examples themselves involve situations that are likely to come up among younger employees, and further channel activism and millennial angst and hostility towards authority. In any event, the flier unfairly singles out millennials as somehow more likely to be victims of religious discrimination when they are, if anything, more likely to be the targets of a form of [legal] age discrimination

Employers need to be aware of the EEOC’s campaign seeking younger employees as complainants of race discrimination. In order to combat this effort it is more critical than ever to include younger employees in compliance efforts to show them that your company is committed to a diverse and inclusive workforce, and that religious discrimination of any form absolutely will not be tolerated under any circumstances. This way, if and when the EEOC comes knocking on your company’s door your employees will let them know that they work in an environment of tolerance, and where a culture of compliance is fostered.

Syntrio’s Compliance Continuum is an innovative means of getting your corporate message of compliance across. We believe that the best way to connect with employees of all ages, whose attention spans are getting shorter is to keep them engaged and ensure the message gets across. We offer a vast array of short-form videos preparing the user for our entertaining, engaging and interactive training courses and keep the content fresh and custom to the needs of your business. With the EEOC seeking a new batch of Plaintiffs during a tumultuous period in American History, now is the time to keep your users informed and aware that religious discrimination will not be tolerated at your company.

Syntrio is committed to helping businesses avoid costly incidents associated with employment discrimination. We are also able to custom-tailor our courses to fit the needs of your business. Contact for more information about our Preventing Religious Discrimination online courses for employees and management and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on compliance that impact your company

Study Unveils the Principles of a High Quality Compliance Program: Part II 

Last week we discussed how online ethics and compliance training can help foster the key principles of a quality compliance program in your organization. By way of review, we explained how a commitment to online training programs: 1) evidences ethics and compliance as a central focus of your business strategy; 2) allows your organization to assess, own, identify, and mitigate risk; and 3) assists your leaders with building and sustaining a culture of integrity in the workplace. Those forward-thinking aspects absolutely help your organization instill a culture of ethics and compliance.

This week’s sequel discusses the value of online training programs when an ethics or compliance issue has already arisen, and how your managers and employees will be better prepared to deal with those issues having taken the online training courses available to them from Syntrio. Without further ado, we present to you the fourth and fifth principles of a quality compliance program:

  1. High-quality Compliance Programs Value and Protect the Reporting Concerns and Suspected Wrongdoing

It is one thing to say that you have an “open-door policy” or that all complaints will be investigated, it is quite another for employees to be truly informed and educated about the corporate philosophy of handling complaints. Syntrio’s anti-retaliation, anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and other courses all have detailed sections on the importance of reporting suspected violations, and the proper way for managers to handle and deal with complaints.

All too often companies “check-the-box” with a policy or practice of non-retaliation or “whistleblower” provisions, yet when the time comes a manager or supervisor is ill-equipped to actually handle the complaint. These managers frequently silence the complaining employee or question whether his or her behavior had something to do with the alleged misconduct. When managers and employees alike have had detailed training on the company’s philosophy of handling complaints and suspected misconduct in a legally and ethically compliant manner the key tenet of valuing complaints can be achieved.

  1. Top-notch Compliance Requires Accountability when Wrongdoing Occurs

Admitting mistakes can be difficult. All too often executives and managers think about dollars and cents when there is a suspicion of misconduct. This may mean avoiding a lawsuit at any cost, even resorting to retaliation to “quell the rebellion” so to speak. However, in order to truly prepare your organization for full accountability it is important that your employees and managers know the ins and outs of handling ethics and compliance issues in the workplace. By preparing your company with online training courses from Syntrio, your workforce will be ready to do just that.

We again remind you that Syntrio is committed to helping businesses avoid costly incidents associated with ethics and compliance missteps. We are also able to custom-tailor our courses to fit the needs of your business. Contact for more information about our vast library of online training courses for employees and management and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on compliance that impact your company!