SEATTLE–Sporting goods retailer Big 5 Corporation will pay $165,000 and provide other relief to settle a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency said Tuesday.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Big 5’s store manager and assistant managers in Oak Harbor, a town on Whidbey Island, Wash., subjected management trainee Robert Sanders to ongoing racial harassment and death threats.
Sanders was the only African-American employee at the Whidbey Island location. Sanders was called “spook,” “boy,” and “King Kong” and was told that he had the “face of a janitor.” The litany of unremedied racial comments escalated when an assistant manager allegedly said, “We will hang you. We will seriously lynch you if you call in again this week.”
The EEOC said that another assistant manager asked Sanders if he was “ready to commit suicide,” offering “assistance” when he was ready to do so. Sanders was forced to go on several leaves due to stress from the ongoing racial harassment, threats, and retaliatory work assignments and discipline, according to the agency. Big 5 ultimately terminated Sanders.
Racial harassment and retaliation violate Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Sanders was also represented by private attorneys Scott Thomas and Terry Venneberg.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $165,000 to Sanders in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Big 5 to train its employees, supervisors, managers and investigators on preventing and reporting workplace racial harassment and retaliation under Title VII. Big 5 will also ensure that its anti-harassment workplace policies prohibit harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
“Title VII protects all employees so that they can work in a setting free from racial slurs and retaliation. Employers must be vigilant, listen to workers who reach out for help, and take appropriate action,” EEOC attorney Carmen Flores said.
“This settlement should send a clear signal to all employers. The consent decree requires corrective measures to help guarantee that next time, Big 5 will move quickly to stop threatening and illegal behavior,” Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office, said.
According to company information, Big 5 Sporting Goods is a retailer headquartered in El Segundo and operates 435 stores and employs 9,000 people in eleven western states.