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Construction Industry Comes Under EEOC Scrutiny

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Citing “severe and pervasive discrimination in the construction sector, especially against women and people of color,” the EEOC has announced it will scrutinize discrimination and harassment claims and “opportunities for historically marginalized workers in the construction industry.” Notably, for ACCA members, a recent case leading to the increased enforcement effort involved an HVAC contractor.

The allegations in the HVAC case are especially egregious, including the use of the N-word, “boy,” “African bastards,” “stupid Mexicans,” “f—– Puerto Ricans,” and labeling non-White employees as “non-essential and useless.” In another case, a White supervisor used a shovel to simulate a penis, shoving it aggressively into a Black worker’s buttocks to mimic anal intercourse.

As if this behavior wasn’t bad enough, workers were fired when they complained in these two cases. If there’s one violation the EEOC really dislikes, it’s retaliation against employees who complain about discriminatory or harassing behavior.

Further, the bad actors in these cases were managers and supervisors, company employees for whose bad behavior an employer will generally be found liable because of their status in the company.

The EEOC does not often bring suit on behalf of complainants because of the agency’s limited resources, leaving litigation to individuals for the most part, but in especially bad cases such as these, the EEOC did in fact, sue the two contractors. The suits are pending.

The real question, of course, is how did these two employers allow a culture to exist in which, as one White supervisor put it to a Black employee in explaining his behavior, “we say the N-word here a lot…don’t get offended.” Employers need to make sure all their employees and especially managers and supervisors know that any behavior of this sort will not be tolerated and—importantly—should be reported, whether experienced or observed. The EEOC isn’t buying the “culture” argument.

Employers who turn a blind eye do so at their peril.

Brooke Duncan

Posted In: Legal, Management, People Management

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