The EEOC filed a lawsuit against O'Reilly Automotive Stores, Inc. d/b/a O'Reilly Auto Parts in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida after conciliation failed.
In its suit, it alleges that a supervisor along with other employees subjected female employees at an O'Reilly store in Orlando to a hostile work environment. The hostile work environment included asking women for oral sex and telling them to bend over. It also included allegations of such inappropriate physical touching as grabbing buttocks, pinning females to tables and brushing up against them in the stock aisles.
The EEOC further alleges that when brought to its attention, O'Reilly did nothing to curb the harassment and even went so far as to retaliate against the women who complained. On at least one occassion, the EEOC further alleges a woman felt she had no other option but to resign.
O'Reilly is headquartered in Springfield, Missouri with over 70,000 employees in over 4,500 stores nationwide.
The take aways are simple: in this new work environment with a heightened awareness of sexual harassment in our society generally (through things such as the #metoo movement) coupled with laws requiring sexual harassment training, be prepared as an employer to:
1. require solid, at least annual training, for employees on sexual harassment including reporting mechanisims which includes a way to bypass supervisors and managers who may be the subject of such allegations (unless your local or state law requires it more frequently);
2. get training, at least annually, for all supervisors and managers to help them understand their unique role in the company when it comes to harassment complaints (unless your local or state law requires it more frequently);
3. hold supervisors and managers to a higher level of accountability not only in cooperating in fair and unbiased investigations but a duty to report things he or she sees in the workplace which may qualify as harassment;
4. make sure those charged with investigation of workplace harassment complaints are well versed in how to conduct a lawful and unbiased investigation, paying special attention to requirements in a unionized work force;
5. make sure all company policies concerning harassment are clearly written and distributed to all employees, including the required reporting procedures. Policies, where appropriate should include discipline for failure to report.
Regardless of size of company (O'Reilly is a rather large company), if you have a decentralized work force or several smaller locations, executive and human resource oversight may be difficult. Therefore an employer depends upon and trusts those who are in charge at those locations. In doing so, it is especially important to make sure there is accountability at all levels. Accountability must be achieved through targeted training as well as clearly written and consistently communicated expectations of the policies and consequences.
These are just a few tips to help in this era as sexual harassment charges are on the rise. Contact any Spognardi Baiocchi attorney of your choice to discuss further.