The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on May 27th, 2022, that a Michigan-based egg producer will pay $175,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit. The EEOC charged that the employer, Konos, subjected a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment. Furthermore, the employer allegedly retaliated against her in response to her complaint. Overall, the decision enforces federal laws on workplace sexual harassment and advances the EEOC’s purpose. In a similar case in March, the EEOC brought similar charges against a popular restaurant franchise in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit

Overview of the Case

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a male supervisor made repeated sexual advances towards a female subordinate employee. Furthermore, these advances allegedly escalated into actual sexual assault. Ultimately, the assaults led to a criminal prosecution and conviction against the supervisor. However, despite the supervisor’s illegal conduct and the female employee’s complaint, Konos failed to address the complaint and take sufficient action to end the harassment. Instead, Konos sent the female employee home, in retaliation against her exercising her legal right to file a complaint. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Harassment

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), harassment is a type of illegal employment discrimination. Accordingly, the law defines harassment as unwelcome conduct that is based on one or more protected classes, including race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information (including family medical history). Markedly, harassment is illegal when:

  1. Enduring the harassment becomes a condition of continued employment, and
  2. It is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

In addition, the law requires employers to reasonably try to prevent and correct the behavior. Employers are responsible for any supervisors or other employees over whom they have control. Finally, Title VII also protects employees who object to discrimination from retaliation, or any adverse employment action against an employee exercising their rights.

Settlement in the Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

Subsequently, the EEOC filed the sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Konos in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Before taking the issue to court in EEOC v. Konos, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:20-CV-00973, the EEOC had attempted to use its conciliation process to reach a pre-litigation settlement. After the EEOC filed the harassment and retaliation lawsuit, the female employee exercised her right to intervene. Accordingly, she filed claims under both Title VII and Michigan’s civil rights law.

In addition to the $175,000 in monetary relief, the district court’s three-year consent decree provided for:

  • injunctive relief,
  • training on sexual harassment, and
  • regular compliance reporting to the EEOC. 

Nedra Campbell, trial attorney for the EEOC, said in response, “Konos should be commended for agreeing to compensate this employee and to take steps to ensure that employees are protected from a sexually hostile work environment in the future.”