Dillard's Sued By EEOC For Retaliation

HOUSTON – Dillard’s, a major department store chain, violated federal law by firing a business manager as retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Shontel Mayfield worked at the Dillard’s store in the Central Mall in Port Arthur, Texas. In September 2008, Mayfield complied with a Jefferson County mandatory evacuation order and evacuated the area in advance of Hurricane Ike. Mayfield returned to Jefferson County consistent with the directives of the county’s “disaster declarations.” After Mayfield returned to work on Sept. 24, she was called into the store manager’s office the next day and advised by the store manager and the assistant store manager / operations manager that she was being fired for the stated reason of “excessive absenteeism.”

On her termination paperwork, Mayfield was accused of having “failed to maintain verbal communication concerning her absences with either the store manager or the operations manager.” Telephone records, however, establish that Mayfield placed numerous calls to Dillard’s “disaster recovery” number, as well as to the cellular telephones of the store manager and the operations manager during the evacuation period.

The EEOC charges that Mayfield was fired as retaliation for her previous allegations of discrimination rather than for her absences during the evacuation period. Earlier in 2008, Mayfield -- who began working for Dillard’s in July 2001, and earned a promotion to business manager of the Estee Lauder counter in 2006 -- had filed a charge with the EEOC in which she alleged that Dillard’s management had discriminated against her because of her race.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about racial discrimination or other employment discrimination based on color, religion, sex or national origin. The EEOC filed suit against Dillard Texas, LLC, doing business as Dillard’s, and Dillard’s Inc. in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division (Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-00204), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

“It is the duty of companies to respond to complaints of discrimination without finding excuses to fire productive employees who make such complaints in good faith,” said EEOC Houston District Director R.J. Ruff, Jr.

EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher said, “This lawsuit will send a message to employers that the EEOC will vigorously enforce federal law by prosecuting companies that punish workers for exercising rights granted to them by federal law.”

The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The federal agency is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting Dillard’s from engaging in further retaliation against any employee. The EEOC is also seeking back pay on behalf of Mayfield and compensatory and punitive damages and other relief on her behalf.

According to its web site, www.dillards.com, “Dillard's, Inc. ranks among the nation's largest fashion apparel, cosmetics and home furnishings retailers with annual revenues exceeding $6.2 billion … the company operates 296 Dillard's locations and 14 clearance centers spanning 29 states, all with one nameplate – Dillard's.”

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