Gonnella Baking Co. To Pay $350,000 To Settle EEOC Harassment And Retaliation Suit

CHICAGO – Gonnella Baking Co., a Chicago-area baking company, will pay $350,000 to settle a national origin harassment and retaliation suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The company will also be subject to a four-year consent decree, under which it will be required to report any further complaints of discrimination or retaliation to the EEOC and to provide training about employment discrimination law to its managers and other employees.

In its suit, the EEOC charged that Gonnella tolerated harassment of employees of Mexican national origin by a manager at its Aurora, Ill., facility and, when a number of those employees complained about the harassment, the manager retaliated against them by subjecting them to further verbal harassment, longer hours, and harsher working conditions. The EEOC sought relief for a class of seven employees, four of whom intervened in the suit as plaintiffs.

John Rowe, EEOC district director in Chicago, said that the EEOC’s investigation revealed that the Gonnella manager routinely made derogatory anti-Mexican comments to several sanitation employees of Mexican national origin. After some of these employees complained about the mis­treatment, the manager required the employees to work longer hours, with a number of shifts exceed­ing 12 hours and on one occasion reaching as much as 19 hours, according to Rowe. According to the employees, the manager warned them against making further complaints, telling one employee that if the employee complained to the company’s human resources department, she was “going to pay for it.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits national origin discrimination and retaliation in employment. Harassment of employees or alteration of the conditions of their employment is unlawful if it is motivated by the employees’ national origin or race or if it is done in retaliation for complaints about discrimination.

“The derogatory language and other harassment directed at the employees in this case are entirely inappropriate in the workplace,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago. “Gonnella failed to take action to address this conduct, despite numerous complaints about this manager from several different employees. As this case illustrates, employers who do not live up to their obligation to put a stop to employment discrimination expose themselves to substantial financial consequences and ongoing scrutiny.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed on September 15, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (EEOC v. Gonnella Baking Co., Case No 08-cv-5240). The consent decree resolving the case was approved today by U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah. The case had been set to go to trial on April 12, 2010. In addition to requiring Gonnella to pay damages to seven individuals and to pay attorney fees to intervening plaintiffs, the decree contains an injunction prohibiting Gonnella from engaging in further discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, or retaliation.

The government’s litigation effort was led by EEOC Trial Attorneys Justin Mulaire and Brad Fiorito and EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.