SEATTLE (Oct. 9, 2006) — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. for allegedly allowing racial harassment of a Native American former employee at its Kalispell, Mont., store.
Filed Sept. 25 in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the lawsuit alleges Earle Nevins was subjected to continuous racial harassment from co-workers during his employment as a sales associate in Kalispell from April 2002 to December 2004. The complaint further alleges that Mr. Nevins was discriminated against based on his race and that the dealership retaliated against him for complaints to company officials about racial harassment by terminating him in 2004.
Mr. Nevins said in an EEOC statement that he complained more than 30 times to store management and to the company's human resources department at corporate headquarters in Prineville, Ore., but the firm dismissed his co-workers' alleged behavior as “horseplay.” He claimed he was called derogatory names and heard insulting jokes about Native Americans on a daily basis.
“Being terminated from my job because of my race was humiliating,” Mr. Nevins said. “It was just two weeks before Christmas, and my wife was eight months pregnant. Having to walk through the door and tell her that I didn't have a job was one of the worst feelings I've ever had.”
One store manager apparently took some type of action because the harassment “quieted down for about a month,” but it started back up again well before Mr. Nevins' termination, said Molly Kucuk, an EEOC trial attorney in the Seattle district office, which oversees Montana. She told Tire Business the alleged harassment was limited to co-workers, but “assistant managers were within earshot often.”
Racial harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. of 1964. The EEOC said it filed the suit against Les Schwab only after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation.
Les Schwab company officials in Prineville declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages and a permanent injunction against all persons in active concert or participation in any retaliatory employment practices as well as a court order that Les Schwab institute and enforce policies and programs that provide equal employment opportunities.
Additionally, the plaintiffs are requesting compensation for Mr. Nevins for past and future losses and emotional pain and suffering resulting from his termination, including past and future out-of-pocket expenses to be determined at trial.
The Montana complaint is the second lawsuit the EEOC has filed against Les Schwab in five months. In May, the EEOC sued Les Schwab for allegedly denying women employment and opportunities for promotion to management at stores in Washington state. In that case, the agency charged that in the dealership's entire history it only recently promoted a woman to an assistant manager position.
Mr. Nevins' grievances originated with the state of Montana's Human Rights Bureau, which investigates any violations of state and federal discrimination laws. The bureau's investigator found that “reasonably illegal discrimination had occurred,” and the agency had attempted but failed to resolve the case between the parties, said Bureau Chief Katherine Countz. She said at that point the agency sent Mr. Nevins' federal claim to the EEOC, which reviewed the case and decided to litigate it.
Mr. Nevins' discrimination claim with the state of Montana is on stay due to the EEOC's lawsuit, Ms. Countz said.