ATHENS, Tenn. — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on Friday it is suing HP Pelzer, Inc., an automotive components manufacturer located in Athens, Tennessee.
The EEOC suit claims the business violated federal law by firing a female employee because she complained of sexual harassment in the workplace, in a suit filed in federal court on Thursday.
The lawsuit says a female employee claimed a human resources manager at the Athens plant made unwelcome comments that the employee believed constituted sex harassment. (The lawsuit does not identify the employee).
Although the woman reported the comments to the plant manager, the lawsuit says he delayed in investigating the allegation.
The lawsuit says the woman then reported the harassment to a higher official in the company, who ordered the plant manager to conduct an investigation.
After completing the investigation, the lawsuit says the plant manager informed the woman that the company could not substantiate her complaint. The lawsuit claims the company then fired the employee, supposedly for violating its harassment policy. Specifically, the lawsuit says the company claimed the employee “purposefully falsified a claim of harassment” in violation of company policy.
The EEOC says such alleged conduct violates the retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from punishing an employee because she complained of alleged discrimination. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Southern Division, after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting HP Pelzer from retaliating against employees in the future, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
“Management officials may not retaliate against employees for their reasonable good-faith belief that the company subjected them to harassment in the workplace,” said Katharine W. Kores, district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi. “Such a policy creates a chilling effect for employees in the workplace. The EEOC will continue to enforce the retaliation provision of Title VII.”
On Aug. 25, 2016, the EEOC issued a new Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues to replace its 1998 Compliance Manual section on retaliation.
According to its website, HP Pelzer was founded in 1969 in Witten, Germany by Helmut Pelzer. Over the last 30 years, the Pelzer Group has grown to 31 manufacturing plants and five technical centers, employing almost 6,000 people, spanning Europe, Asia and North and South America.