Fox News Lawsuits Highlight Importance of Workplace Culture

Employers should take note of the position Fox News is in due to the proliferation of recent lawsuits against the network by numerous current and former employees. To be clear and fair, the lawsuits only involve allegations at this time – nothing has been proven at trial, or otherwise.  Indeed, Fox News has denied the allegations. However, the common intertwined theme throughout all the lawsuits is that Fox News tolerates harassmentdiscrimination and retaliation. In short, the lawsuits attack Fox News’ workplace culture.

By having its workplace culture attacked, Fox News faces certain defense challenges. For instance, there is likely an increased risk of copycat or “me too” claims.  In fact, Fox News has stated as much to the media. Additionally, the effectiveness of Fox News’ anti-harassment/discrimination policies and its remedial process addressing harassment or discrimination complaints is at issue. Therefore, the company may face challenges in asserting the defense that those employees or former employees alleging discrimination or harassment never complained about the alleged improper conduct, and therefore never gave the company an opportunity to take appropriate remedial action.  Lastly, Fox News has suffered damage to its public reputation.

So what is the takeaway? Simply put, workplace culture matters. Employers should embrace the creation of a harassment/discrimination free workplace culture.  Such a culture should reduce potential lawsuits because the company would be given the opportunity to redress issues early on. Additionally, such a culture will strengthen the company’s defenses against harassment and discrimination claims, lead to increased employee morale and protect against unfavorable publicity that can damage the employer’s reputation.

The following are tips for employers to help create a harassment/discrimination free workplace:

  • Institute a written harassment/discrimination workplace policy with an effective complaint procedure. The complaint procedure should allow employees to bypass their immediate supervisors and report violations directly to other members of management or directly to the HR department. Convey the message that the policy applies to anyone in the workplace, including supervisors, co-workers, vendors and customers, and that anyone can be a harasser or victim.

  • Provide training or information for current and new employees on policy. Conduct refresher training routinely.

  • Implement training for supervisors and managers on relevant policies, including their supervisory responsibilities and role in ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination and harassment policies.

  • Develop the expectation that any employee who is a victim or witness to harassment or discrimination is required to report it.

  • Communicate that retaliation for raising complaints will not be tolerated.

  • Treat complaints confidentially, to the extent practical.

  • Investigate alleged incidents of harassment/discrimination promptly and objectively. Remember that your selection of the individual(s) conducting the investigation matters. The investigator(s) should have sufficient authority to take appropriate remedial action and should be credible. At the end of the investigation, discuss the results with individual who made complaint.

  • Institute appropriate disciplinary action, up to termination, when investigation determines that a policy violation has occurred.

  • Prior to terminating or taking adverse action against an employee, examine potential basis for a retaliation allegation.

Are Your Anti-Harassment Initiatives Working? EEOC Says NO

It has been thirty years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workplace harassment was a form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a series of court and agency decisions since that time, we have been provided some guidance on what the courts and the EEOC expect employers to do in order to protect their employees from unlawful harassment, but never has the guidance been more clear than in a report the EEOC released in June.

Zero Tolerance, EEOC, harassmentThe report is the result of an EEOC task force charged with examining workplace harassment and methods for preventing and addressing it. The report is clear – it’s time for a reboot of workplace harassment prevention and compliance initiatives. The report is rich with statistics and examples, and worth a read for the list of 12 harassment risk factors and recommendations. Pay particular attention to the section on training. The report unequivocally states: training should be conducted by qualified, live, and interactive trainers. In addition, the EEOC advises what we have long believed to be the case: in order to be effective, anti-harassment training should be delivered “live” with the top level of leadership present and participating.

So, we encourage you to take pause and inventory your anti-harassment initiatives. Is your current program effective and are your training dollars well-spent?

You can find a copy of the EEOC’s report here.

Copyright © 2016 Godfrey & Kahn S.C.

EEOC Sues Wal-Mart for Disability Discrimination And Harassment: Agency Says Retailer Denied Accommodations to Disabled Cancer Survivor

Agency Says Retailer Denied Accommodations to and Harassed a Disabled Cancer Survivor

CHICAGO – Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. violated federal law by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee at its Hodgkins, Ill., store who was disabled by bone cancer and failing to stop harassment of the employee, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed yesterday.

According to Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, who managed EEOC’s pre-suit administrative investigation, the Walmart store initially agreed to comply with employee Nancy Stack’s request that the company provide a chair in her work area in the fitting room and limit her scheduled work hours because treatment for bone cancer in her leg limited her ability to walk and stand. After complying with her scheduling accommodation for many months, the store revoked it for no reason. And the store did not ensure that a chair was in Stack’s work area, at one point telling her that she had to haul a chair from the furniture department every day, which was of course hard for her to do given her disability. Finally, the store transferred Stack from the fitting room to a greeter position, which did not comply with her restrictions on standing.

To add insult to injury, Bowman added, a co-worker harassed Stack by calling her names like “cripple” and “chemo brain,” imitated her limp, and removed or hid the chair the employee needed in her work area. Stack complained repeatedly, but the store took no action to stop the co-worker’s harassment.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which can include denying reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and subjecting disabled employees to a hostile work environment.

The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Civil Action No. 15-5796, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman. The government’s litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorney Ann Henry and supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason.

“It’s hard to believe a retailer the size of Wal-Mart could not manage to consistently provide such a simple accommodation as a chair,” said John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for EEOC’s Chicago District Office. “Telling a disabled employee that she needs to drag a chair across the store every day is no accommodation at all. Employers have to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would be an undue hardship. EEOC is aware of no hardship that required Wal-Mart to suddenly change Stack’s schedule, deny her the use of a chair, and transfer her out of the fitting room where she had performed her job well for years.”

EEOC Trial Attorney Ann Henry commented, “No employee should have to go to work and face mocking and name calling because she had cancer. Employers who know about such vile harassment in their workplace have an obligation to stop it. Wal-Mart did not do that here, and the EEOC will seek to hold the company liable for that violation.

In July 2014, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart alleging that it violated the ADA by firing an intellectually disabled employee at a Rockford Walmart store after it rescinded his workplace accommodation.

The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

This press release originally appeared in the EEOC Newsroom.