The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with investigating and prosecuting employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, recently settled a lawsuit against a company that operates a chain of retail stores in the New York metropolitan area. The lawsuit, filed as a class action, alleged a pattern or practice of sex discrimination in which the company refused to hire women for various positions. EEOC v. Mavis Discount Tire, Inc., et al., No. 1:12-cv-00741, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 31, 2012). The parties reached a settlement agreement in early 2016, in which the defendant agreed to pay $2.1 million and take various remedial actions.
Laws at the federal and state levels in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. This includes overt acts of discrimination against an individual employee or job applicant, and it may also include less obvious forms of discrimination. Systemic discrimination, commonly known as “pattern or practice” discrimination, occurs when an employer enacts policies or engages in practices that have a disparate impact on certain people based on a protected category, such as sex, race, or religion.
An employer may undertake a pattern or practice with the intent of discriminating against a protected group, but intent to discriminate is not a required element for a claim under Title VII. Even if a pattern or practice is “neutral on its face,” it is unlawful if it “operate[s] to ‘freeze’ the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices.” Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 430 (1971). A plaintiff in a Title VII claim must establish that a pattern or practice has a disparate impact, and then the burden shifts to the employer to demonstrate its “business necessity,” which must be specifically “related to job performance.” Id. at 431. Congress codified the prohibition on systemic discrimination with the Civil Rights Act of 1991. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k).
The defendant is a corporation organized and based in New York. According to the EEOC’s complaint, it operates about 110 store locations in multiple states, with about 800 “field employees.” Mavis, complaint at 3. The complaint alleged a practice of discrimination against female job applicants that “intentionally…denied employment opportunities to qualified females in favor of equally or less qualified males.” Id. This affected various managerial and mechanic positions.
Store managers had some say over the hiring process, but the EEOC claimed that one of the company’s senior vice presidents had final decision-making authority. Only one of the defendant’s 800 field employees in 2012 was female, according to the EEOC, and she was hired in 1990. Id. at 4. Between 2008 and 2010, the defendant hired about 1,300 field employees, none of whom were women. Id.
The lawsuits claimed sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, as well as Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. It also alleged that the defendant failed to keep employment records as required by Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-8(c). In the consent decree approved by the court in March 2016, the defendant agreed to pay $2.1 million in damages, to be split among 46 complainants, and to make various changes to its hiring policies and practices.
If you need to speak to a gender discrimination lawyer in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.
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