Many people in Florida are aware that under federal law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy or genetic information. People might be less aware that it is not only illegal for employers to practice discrimination, but it is also illegal for employers to foster a hostile workplace by failing to stop employee-on-employee discrimination or harassment if it is reported.
The U.S. Justice Department announced earlier today that it has reached a settlement agreement with Lee County, Florida, in a discrimination case that involved employee-on-employee harassment. The county has now agreed to pay $292,500 to the three victims in the settlement that still must be approved by the federal district court.
The victims in this case were three Facilities Management Trades workers who were reportedly subjected to racial slurs and ethnic slurs by several co-workers from 2007 to early 2009. The victims' co-workers also made false accusations against two of the victims in an effort to have them fired. Notably, the victims complained to their supervisors about the harassment, but Lee County took no action to stop the illegal treatment until the harassers were finally fired in 2009.
In addition to the monetary payment, if the settlement is approved the county will also be required to revise its anti-discrimination policies to better protect its workers, as well as provide training on race and national origin discrimination to Facilities Management employees.
This case should remind Florida residents that their employers are responsible to keep the workplace free of discrimination and harassment. When employers do not step in to stop such treatment after it is reported, workers may benefit from talking to an employment law attorney about their rights.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, "Justice Department Settles Race and National Origin Lawsuit Against Lee County, Florida," April 10, 2013