On June 23, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and IFCO Systems settled for about $200,000 a Title VII case involving a lesbian work lift worker who alleged she was harassed and discriminated against based on her sexual orientation. The case was one of the first lawsuits filed by the EEOC alleging that a private employer violated Title VII by treating an employee differently because of their sexual orientation.
In EEOC v. Pallet Cos., D. Md., No. 16-595, Yolanda Boone worked as a forklift operator on the night shift at Pallet Companies, which operates as IFCO Systems, where she claims her night shift manager continuously verbally harassed her. Boone alleged that her manager made comments Such as ” I want to turn you back into a woman,” grabbed his crotch while staring at her, and blew kisses in her direction. On April 18, 2014, she left early because of the extent of harassment. The following day she was asked to resign, and then terminated when she refused to resign.
After the EEOC found probable cause and filed suit on behalf of Boone, the parties entered into a Consent Decree. The employer agreed to pay $182,200 (including $175,000 in compensatory damages) to Ms. Boone, and to contribute $20,000 to a lesbian rights advocacy organization. The company also agreed to give Ms. Boone a positive letter of reference, to post and distribute its EEO and “Speaking Up” polices to all employees, and to conduct training for its employees on sexual orientation and sexual identity issues in the workplace.
The case was one of two separate suits filed by the EEOC on March 1 alleging that sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII. Significantly, no federal appeals court has yet adopted the EEOC’s position, and the statute makes no reference to sexual orientation. Nevertheless, 22 states and many more localities have statutory prohibitions against sexual orientation discrimination, and Executive Order 13672 (amending Executive Order 11246) prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Employers should expect the EEOC to continue to litigate this issue as it seeks to expand the scope of protections afforded by Title VII.