On February 8th, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that an Illinois-based auto parts company will pay $200,000 to settle workplace sexual harassment charges. The charges involved sexual harassment and abuse against both male and female employees. Legislators have recently supported the EEOC as it enforces anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws under its federal authority. Earlier, in 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Speak Out Act, limiting sexual harassment nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements and further protecting the right of victims to bring litigation against employers.

Overview of the Workplace Sexual Harassment Case

The workplace sexual harassment occurred at multiple locations in Illinois and Iowa. According to the case, supervisors and other employees at the company repeatedly subjected several male employees to physical abuse and sexual comments. Male employees were forcibly groped and subjected to graphic sexual language on multiple occasions.

The EEOC also charged that a female employee was the subject of offensive verbal comments. For example, a supervisor would address the female employee as “woman” instead of using her name throughout her employment. Finally, the female employee, an automotive technician, was given “demeaning” work assignments instead of the automotive work she was qualified for. These included cleaning and running personal errands. Allegedly, this reassignment was based off of negative sexual stereotypes.

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. These classes include 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 try to prevent and correct behavior reasonably. Employers are responsible for supervisors or other employees over whom they control, introducing vicarious liability. Finally, Title VII also protects employees who object to discrimination from retaliation or any adverse employment action against an employee exercising their rights.

Penalties for Workplace Sexual Harassment

The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (district court) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. In EEOC v. Monro, Inc., the district court ordered the company to pay $200,000 in monetary relief to four former employees. Along with the monetary penalties, the company must provide employees and managers with specialized training on sexual harassment. Finally, the company must post a notice about the lawsuit and report to the EEOC any future workplace sexual harassment complaints for two years.