Jury Awards over $1.5 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case Against Mid-American Specialties

MEMPHIS, Tenn. A U.S. District Court jury brought in a verdict of over $1.5 million for sexual harassment and retaliation in the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) lawsuit against Mid-American Specialties (Mid- American), a Memphis-based company that distributes promotional products and office supplies, the agency announced today. The verdict came after a trial presided over by Chief Judge Jon P. McCalla. The actual jury award included more than $400,000 in compensatory damages and back pay to three women and $1.1 million in punitive damages.

“The jury verdict is an important vindication of the EEOC’s long-standing commitment to securing fair and equal treatment for all women in the work place,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “The EEOC will continue to be vigorous in its enforcement of the federal laws protecting workers from sexual harassment and retaliation.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit, Civil Action No. 2:09-cv-02203-JMP, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, charged Mid-American with subjecting three former female employees in Memphis to sexual harassment, and retaliating against two of the women for reporting the harassment. This conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment based on sex and retaliation against those who protest it.

“We hope for amicable resolutions but are prepared to try cases to vindicate legal violations,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. “Recent sexual harassment cases such as this one as well as the large verdict we received against Paul’s Big M in New York, demonstrate that juries support the EEOC’s continued vigorous enforcement.”

The jury found that two male managers at Mid-American subjected female subordinates to severe, unwelcome sexual harassment. According to trial testimony, one manager exposed his genitals and forced one of the women to place her hand on his private parts. There was further testimony that another manager made demands for women to participate in a “kissing” or “smooching” club in order to receive the sales leads and accounts necessary for the women to earn commissions.

The trial evidence further showed that as a result of their rejection of managers’ sexual advances and complaints about the harassment, Mid-American fired two of the women. During the two years that the harassment took place, Mid-American had no sexual harassment policy, no training on sexual harassment, and no reporting procedures. Company officials testified that they did not think that such policies and procedures were necessary, so the complaints of the women fell on deaf ears. The human resources manager testified that she did not even know the definition of sexual harassment at the time of the events.

"This jury verdict sends the strongest possible message to employers that sexual harassment and retaliation should never be tolerated in the work place,” said Faye A. Williams, EEOC regional attorney in Memphis. “The jury award further shows that employers without sexual harassment policies and procedures for handling complaints promptly and effectively are taking major risks.”

"Three women displayed tremendous courage in confronting egregious sexual harassment by their supervisors. The jury's verdict vindicates their courage and sends a message to the defendant that complaints about sexual harassment should never result in termination," said Kenneth Anderson, EEOC lead trial attorney.

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