Butterball Sued By EEOC For Harassment, Firing Of HIV-Positive Employee

Turkey Company Violated Federal Disability Law, Agency Charged

GARNER, N.C. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today that Butterball, LLC, a Garner, N.C.-based turkey processing company, violated federal law by subjecting an employee to a hostile work environment based on the fact that she has Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and firing her because of that disability.

According to the lawsuit, Butterball subjected Tracy Montgomery to harassment throughout her employment in October and November 2009. Specifically, three of Montgomery’s co-workers expressed to her on a daily basis that they did not want to touch her or work with her because she is HIV-positive. The three employees also referred to Montgomery using derogatory names to describe her HIV status. The EEOC further alleges that Montgomery complained to her supervisor about the harassment on a daily or near-daily basis, but the harassment persisted. Butterball’s plant manager was also aware of the harassment after conducting a meeting with Montgomery and one of her co-workers to address an altercation that the co-worker provoked. However, the next day, the plant manager fired Montgomery.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with disabilities from being harassed, fired, or from other employment decisions based on disabilities that are covered under the act, such as HIV. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Butterball, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:11-cv-00685) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages for Montgomery as well as certain injunctive relief.

“Harassment that targets a person with an ADA-covered disability, is just as much a violation of federal law as harassment based on a person’s race, color, gender, age, religion, or national origin,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “HIV/AIDS has always been a sensitive health issue, and an employer has no excuse for failing to intervene when an employee complains of vicious harassment based on her HIV status.”

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Tina Burnside added, “Employees have the right to work in an environment free from harassment, and Title VII prohibits both harassment and firing an employee because of her disability.”

President Barack Obama has charged federal agencies to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which includes addressing and preventing employment-related discrimination against people living with HIV.This case serves as an example of how the EEOC will strongly enforce federal laws to ensure that qualified people are not wrongfully deprived of an opportunity to earn a living simply because of their HIV status.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

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