Safie Specialty Foods Company Inc., which pickles vegetables in Chesterfield Township, Michigan, will pay $125,000 to settle a sexual harassment and relation lawsuit, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Jan. 21. Two female production workers, one of whom was a temporary employee, were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment, according to the agency. The women were targets of sexual advances and comments by the lead food processing employee, who is also the husband of a manager at Safie.
The temporary employee complained about the harassment to her shift supervisor, who then notified higher-level management and submitted a written report, according to the EEOC. The allegations were corroborated by the other victim and a male temporary employee. However, Safie fired both victims, the shift supervisor and the male temporary employee.
Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and temporary workers are protected as well as traditional staff. “It takes courage for a temporary employee to report sexual harassment by a superior or favorite of management,” said Miles Uhlar, trial attorney for the EEOC’s Detroit Field Office. “The EEOC understands this and will continue to protect the rights of such people, particularly against employers who fire the victim rather than addressing the behavior of the harasser.”
Companies that receive a complaint need to address them appropriately, says Janette Levey Frisch, an attorney who counsels senior management and HR professionals in multi-state labor and employment law issues. And while it is unclear based on the EEOC’s announcement if Safie’s temporary employee was working through a staffing provider and to what extent that provider was involved in the process, Frisch noted if an affected worker is from a staffing firm, and if the staffing firm knew or had reason to know about the harassment and failed to take appropriate steps to address it, both companies would likely be considered jointly responsible for ensuring a proper investigation.
Any time an employer receives allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace, it should take them seriously and conduct a prompt, thorough and fair investigation, Levey Frisch says. When the allegations involve a temporary worker, the staffing provider and client company should both be involved in the investigative process.
In an article in Staffing Industry Review magazine, Levey Frisch outlined steps staffing firms and their clients should take if they were to receive a harassment complaint involving a temporary worker, including how the companies should work together.
As part of the settlement, Safie will also provide annual sexual harassment training to all employees.