Houston Businesses Settle EEOC Age Discrimination Suit

Waitress Harassed and Fired Because of Her Age, Federal Agency Charged

HOUSTON - Two Houston-area adult-oriented businesses have settled an age discrimination case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. According to the EEOC’s suit, AHD Houston, Inc. and W.L. York, Inc., doing business as Cover Girls, violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by harassing and ultimately firing a waitress because of her age.

In its lawsuit (Civil Action No. 4:09-cv-01371), the EEOC charged that in August 2005, two male managers at Cover Girls, both in their 30s, began harassing and discriminating against Mary Bassi, who was in her 50s, because of her age. On multiple occasions, these managers referred to Bassi as “old” and made other negative comments about her age, including telling her she was exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Cover Girls’ management also began hiring younger female waitresses and scheduling them for shifts in place of Bassi, despite the fact that she was performing her duties well and had received no recent disciplinary actions.

Finally, without provocation or explanation, Cover Girls fired Bassi in August 2006 when she was 56 years old, the EEOC said. When she was fired, Bassi had worked at various establishments owned by or related to the defendants over the preceding 13 years.

“Age discrimination cannot and will not be tolerated in any business or industry in Houston,” said EEOC Regional Attorney James Sacher. “No matter what sector they occupy, business establishments are not exempt from the federal laws which protect employees from discrimination and adverse employment actions based on age.”

The two defendants operate sexually oriented business establishments in the Houston area, which include Centerfolds and Cover Girls. Cover Girls closed its doors as a result of a fire shortly following Bassi’s termination, but is now set to reopen in early 2011.

Age discrimination violates the ADEA, which is one of the statutes the EEOC is charged with enforcing. The EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, only after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

The settlement terms, set forth in a consent decree signed and entered by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt, require the two defendants to pay $60,000 to compensate Bassi for the age discrimination and wrongful discharge. The decree also contains provisions to ensure that the defendants’ managers and employees are properly trained to fully understand and comply with federal employment discrimination laws. In addition, the companies are required to maintain policies and procedures for addressing illegal discrimination in the workplace, including complaint procedures and guidelines for investigating complaints of discrimination, which must be approved by the EEOC.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.