Oct 06 2011

EEOC Files Suit Against Employment Agency For Sending Women Into “Hostile Work Environment”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the Federal Agency entrusted to policing claims of discrimination in the workplace. Last week, the EEOC filed a Federal discrimination lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois against Source One Staffing, claiming the Source One repeatedly sent female workers to job assignments even though two prior temps had complained about sexual harassment at the workplace. The EEOC said that while the employer could be held responsible for the harassment, the staffing agency could be charged as well since they had notice of the alleged conduct.

The EEOC is also suing Source One, a Chicago based employment agency, for categorizing jobs as “women’s work” and “men’s work” and therefore refusing to send women to jobs for which they were qualified. John Rowe, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said the agency’s investigation uncovered direct evidence of sex stereotyping in Source One’s job assignment practices. “Title VII prohibits employment agencies from failing or refusing to refer employees for temporary job assignments because of their sex,” said Rowe in the EEOC’s press release announcing the lawsuit. “This includes a duty not to comply with discriminatory requests from its clients for workers of only one sex.” Here is the official statement about the case from John Hendrikson, the EEOC’s regional attorney:

“Employment agencies must exercise caution when sending workers on temporary job assignments. When a temporary worker is harassed, Title VII requires both the staffing agency and its client to take corrective actions. A staffing agency cannot continue to send women into a known hostile work environment or place blind trust in its client to remedy the situation. Our investigation suggests that Source One ignored reports of sex harassment and then retaliated against two women whose complaints were too loud to ignore.”

This action, if successful, would impose an obligation on temporary staffing agencies to monitor complaints of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Counsel for the agency may recommend a method of keeping track of complaints so that the agency can prove whether such complaints were received. When you consider that many temps recommend their friends to the agencies when more workers are needed, agencies will want to make sure they are not targeted wrongfully by a group of employees. Since staffing agencies normally have close working relationships with the employers, it will likely create a conflict where an agency will have to choose refusing to place workers at a particular work place or expose itself to a Title VII claim similar to this one. It would also place a burden on the agencies to have counsel familiar with workplace discrimination cases review the complaints of workers to deem whether an employer had a hostile workplace. Those lawyers would most probably exercise caution and advise their agency clients to not staff a location that was the subject of two or more complaints of similar conduct and to alert the workplace that these claims are existent and are the basis why the agency cannot place any workers there until the employer takes steps to remedy the situation.

That will not be a pleasant for the agency to make, but it certainly beats getting dragged into Federal Court by the government.

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