- A Virginia-based firm that provided security services for the National Institutes of Health has agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suit alleging that a supervisor reduced the number of foreign-born workers at the company after claiming “there were too many Africans,” the commission announced Dec. 17.
- The EEOC said in a statement announcing the lawsuit that, soon after MVM, Inc. appointed a new project manager to oversee about 400 security personnel, about half of whom were Africans, the supervisor began complaining that there were “too many Africans,” mocked the individuals’ accents and declared that he was going to reduce the number of Africans working for the company. In addition, African employees were denied leave, forced to work on their scheduled days off, and subjected to “heightened scrutiny, intimidation, suspension, repeated threats of termination and trumped-up charges of misconduct and poor performance,” the commission alleged. Despite “dozens of complaints to MVM corporate,” MVM failed to take action and retaliated against those who opposed the unlawful treatment, the EEOC said.
- MVM agreed to pay $1.6 million and to remote from class members’ personnel files any reference to terminations for cause. It also agreed to provide annual training to its managers, HR personnel, and those who handle employee discrimination complaints or investigations, among other actions.
National origin discrimination involves treating employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country or because of ethnicity or accent, according to the EEOC. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination based on national origin in employment, including job assignments, promotions, transfers, and discipline and applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The federal law also prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about unlawful treatment.
Harassment can include derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent, or ethnicity, the commission explained in its guidance document. While Title VII doesn’t protect against simple teasing or isolated incidents, harassment becomes legally actionable when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile.
EEOC’s enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination also makes clear that Title VII’s protections for national origin discrimination extend to all employees and job applicants regardless of their place of birth, authorization to work, citizenship, or immigration status.
Employers can take several steps to prevent workplace harassment, according to a commission task force, including clearly communicating that harassment based on national origin will not be tolerated, adopting anti-harassment policies and procedures, and disciplining employees who violate workplace anti-harassment rules.