Home electronics retailer Video Only will pay $630,000 and carry out anti-racism measures to settle two discrimination lawsuits, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Monday.
According to the agency's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, two employees of Video Only's Jantzen Beach store in North Portland — Michael Gonzales, a Hispanic, and Jayson Lewis, an African American whose fiancée and two young children are Jewish — faced repeated slurs and jokes about their race, national origin, and religion.
"Our investigation discovered harassment that engaged in the worst stereotypes and slurs about Blacks, Latinos and Jews, and that upper management actively participated in this behavior," said EEOC Acting District Director Mike Baldonado, in a statement. "This is a major victory for Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Lewis, the employees who testified on their behalf and future employees at Video Only."
The abuse included use of the "n–word" by management; the telling of racially offensive "jokes;" use of the epithet "beaner"; and a doll with its hair and face painted black that was hog-tied and hung by a nail in the break room.
The EEOC also alleged that the company retaliated against Gonzales and Lewis after they reported the harassment by, among other things, hiring a private investigator to gather information in an effort to discredit their harassment claims.
The regulatory agency also charged that company officials confronted co-workers who supported the complainants by telling them they were hurting the company and trying to get them to quit.
The EEOC and the employees took the unusual step of filing pretrial papers seeking a ruling against the company. On June 11, Judge Garr King ruled that Video Only had indeed unlawfully retaliated against Lewis and Gonzales.
"The court's June 11 finding affirms EEOC's position that retaliation designed to frighten employees from reporting or testifying about discrimination violates the law," said EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo. "These employees should be recognized for their courage in stepping forward."
In finding for the EEOC and the discrimination victims, the court said the company had called for a private investigation because of Gonzales' and Lewis' complaints and "for no other reason." The court also knocked down a cornerstone of Video Only's defense, finding as a matter of law that Video Only failed to exercise reasonable care to promptly correct the harassment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"The settlement should send a strong message that harassment based on race, national origin and religion has no place in the workplace, and that those who speak out against discrimination are protected by law from retaliation," Baldonado said.
Gonzales and Lewis will be awarded $500,000 of the total $630,000 settlement. The remaining $130,000 resolved a related suit to which EEOC was not a party. The related suit alleged retaliation against Travis Herron and Dave Guralnick, two other Jantzen Beach employees who spoke out on behalf of Gonzales and Lewis.
In addition to the monetary settlement, Video Only agreed to implement anti-discrimination policies and procedures in its workforce. The company will provide anti-discrimination training to all management and non-management employees in Oregon and at its headquarters store in Seattle-Southcenter.
The company will also provide periodic reports to EEOC on its compliance with the terms of the consent decree. The Oregon court will have jurisdiction to enforce the EEOC's settlement for the next three years.
Video Only, Inc. sells home entertainment video and audio equipment. The corporation has 18 stores located in Washington, California, Oregon and has its headquarters in Seattle.