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Mining Company and EEOC Resolve Sexual Harassment/Retaliation Lawsuit

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Mining Company and EEOC Resolve Sexual Harassment/Retaliation Lawsuit

Northern Star (Pogo) LLC, an Alaska-based gold mining company, agreed to pay $690,000 and provide other relief to resolve a discrimination and retaliation action. 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company refused to promote a woman and instead promoted other, less-qualified male candidates. When Hanna Hurst applied for the promotion and then complained, Northern Star created additional qualifications for her to complete. But the company exempted male employees from these tests. In addition to paying money, Northern Star must adhere to a long-term consent agreement that will insure equal opportunities for promotion for females.

“Gender bias continues to be a problem in today’s workplace, certainly no less in those industries traditionally dominated by men,” said EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko. “We commend Northern Star as the new successor company for demonstrating its commitment to see such discrimination doesn’t continue under its leadership.”

“Sexual harassment and retaliation are some of the most common employment discrimination claims in Illinois,” observed Chicago employment discrimination lawyers Arthur R Ehrlich and Jonathan C. Goldman. “These problems are extremely widespread, and they are also relatively easy to prove in court.”

Substantive sexual harassment cases can sometimes be complex, they cautioned. There are two types of sexual harassment claims in Illinois:

  • Quid Pro Quo: It is illegal to condition any employment-related decision on any sexual favor. This happens more often than many people believe but is often done in a subtle manner. A female employee should be careful when her boss asks if they can discuss some matter at lunch or dinner when no other employees are present.”
  • Hostile Environment: This occurs when there is a severe and pervasive pattern of unwelcome sexual or gender comments or acts.  A single joke or off-color remark does not constitutes sexual harassment. The conduct must be frequent enough to adversely affect a reasonable person or make it difficult for the employee to perform her normal job duties.

A  single-episode of a sexual assault or an extremely aggressive attempt at a sexual overture may be sufficient. 

Repeated touching to the point where it is clearly not accidental may also be enough, especially when inappropriate jokes are common. The employer’s failure to investigate a complaint or take action to stop harassment by co-workers will strengthen a sexual harassment case.  A failure to conduct an adequate and diligent investigations happens all too frequently, especially in mining, construction, and other male-dominated industries. Post-complaint investigations must be done immediately, and should be comprehensive, and transparent. 

Statistically, the EEOC usually handles more retaliation claims than anything else. This includes retaliation for making a complaint for sexual harassment.

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee who participated in a protected activity. Protected activities include the following:

  • Filing a complaint or serving as a witness in an employment discrimination claim,
  • Lodging an informal discrimination complaint,
  • Resisting sexual advances or other discriminatory conduct,
  • Intervening to help others in these situations, and
  • Refusing to follow discriminatory orders.

Even if the underlying complaint of discrimination does not prove that the law was violated, an employee is still protected from retaliation as long as the complaint was made in good faith. Contact Goldman & Ehrlich to discuss your discrimination case today.