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Employers Beware! Lack of Action Leads to Liability

Published:  January 10, 2018

Employers should be aware of a large sexual harassment settlement in Arizona.  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Arizona Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office (ACRD), filed suit on behalf of numerous female employees against the GEO Group, Inc., alleging extreme sexual harassment and retaliation between 2006 and 2012.  The GEO Group operates the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) and Arizona State Prison-Florence West Facility (Florence West) in Florence, Arizona.  The EEOC alleged that the GEO Group allowed its female employees to be subjected to sexual assault and verbal harassment by male guards and supervisors. The EEOC further alleged that when the female employees reported the harassment, the GEO Group, instead of taking swift and prompt remedial action, retaliated against the women in a wide variety of ways.

The case was originally filed in the United States District Court, which ruled that some of the allegations did not rise to the level of actionable harassment and dismissed the case.  The EEOC appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision, allowed the case to continue, and allowed the EEOC to seek out other possible victims. The 9th Circuit stated that the cumulative effects of the harassment taken as a whole, especially in light of the unwanted physical contact, were enough to warrant a trial.

The settlement includes $550,000.00 for 16 women, alongside a myriad of other sanctions. GEO Group must also send letters of regret to the women, provide employment references for them, review its EEO policies, designate certain alleged harassers as ineligible for rehire, post notices, and conduct anti-discrimination training. The case makes it clear that employers need to be vigilant upon receipt of employee complaints, and investigate every allegation thoroughly, as failure to do so leaves employers vulnerable to harassment claims.

If you have any questions pertaining to employer obligations regarding sexual harassment complaints, or any other aspect of employment law, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C.

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