Manager Hurled Racial and Sex-Based Epithets at Workers, Fired a Harassment Victim for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
CLEVELAND – Mel-K Management Company violated federal law by subjecting a class of employees to a racially hostile environment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today. The EEOC also said Mel-K unlawfully retaliated against an employee for complaining about the abuse.
The EEOC said Sue Shelko, Mel-K’s general manager, frequently called black employees names such as “n—-r”, “ho’,” and “black bitch,” and deprived African-American employees of equal terms and conditions of employment, such as regularly allowing white employees more breaks than black employees and disciplining blacks for coming in late while relaxing the same rules for whites.
Further, the EEOC said, Mel-K subjected a lower-level manager, Sabrina McHenry, to both a racially and sexually hostile environment and then retaliated against her for opposing the harassment by conditioning her further employment on transferring her to an undesirable location. Finally, the EEOC said, Mel-K fired her.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division (Case No. 1:14-cv-02155) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages and benefits.
“Managers have a statutory and moral duty to protect their employees from race- and sex-based harassment in the workplace, and it’s disturbing that 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some managers still don’t get it,” said Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, which oversees Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, and portions of New Jersey and Ohio. “Employees have a right to work in an environment free of harassment — and the right to complain if their employer fails to provide such an environment.”
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.