A long-lasting employment harassment case has finally come to a close for one Louisiana man. Kerry Woods filed a harassment complaint against his former employer, Boh Bros. Construction Co., with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) nearly six years ago.
According to his complaint, Woods was subjected to repeated unlawful harassment by a male supervisor due to his failure to fit into a male stereotype. The supervisor allegedly often made taunting sexual gestures, exposed himself, and verbally abused Woods on a regular basis. At trial, the supervisor even testified at trial that his behavior stemmed from the fact that Woods did not fit the “rough iron worker” stereotype because he was effeminate.
A Lengthy Legal Process
The case dragged on for a significant period of time, with the following taking place:
· The EEOC filed a claim against the construction company in 2009.
· The case went to trial in 2011.
· The trial jury awarded Woods $451,000 in back pay and other compensatory and punitive damages.
· The trial judge lowered the award to $300,000 to comply with Title VII award regulations.
· Boh Bros. appealed the verdict and a three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, claiming the EEOC did not provide adequate evidence of harassment based on sex stereotype.
· The EEOC appealed and the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals again reversed the decision in favor of Woods.
In its final review, the 5th Circuit found that the EEOC did in fact present enough evidence to show the harassment took place because Woods was “not manly enough.” The court decided that harassment based on gender stereotypes can qualify as unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.
However, the 5th Circuit did not uphold the entire $300,000 award from the trial level. Instead, the parties came to a recent consent agreement for $125,000 in total damages. Additionally, Boh Bros. must inform all employees of the verdict, state that the company will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, and that they will take serious disciplinary action against anyone who participates in sexual harassment at work.
Though the case was a roller coaster ride and the original award was ultimately significantly reduced, Woods and the EEOC still consider the final result a victory. Not only does Woods get significant compensation, but they believe the verdict will prevent Boh Bros. from allowing such harassment or discrimination to take place in the future.
Any type of unlawful workplace harassment should never be tolerated. If you believe you have experienced unlawful harassment at work, you should take action to hold your employer accountable for its wrongdoing. The experienced team at HKM Employment Attorneys can help protect your rights and get you the compensation you deserve.