WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today the filing of a lawsuit against Lee County, Fla., alleging that the county discriminated against three Hispanic employees on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Title VII is a federal statute which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin or religion.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, Fla., alleges that Lee County discriminated against tradesworkers Marco Ferreira, Eduardo Rivera and Leonides Sepulveda by subjecting them to racial and ethnic harassment over a period of approximately two years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2009. According to the complaint, these employees were subjected to the discriminatory actions of several of their co-workers who regularly used racial and ethnic slurs, repeatedly mocked Ferreira’s and Rivera’s accents, refused to perform work assigned by Rivera and made false accusations against Ferreira and Rivera to Lee County’s Office of Equal Opportunity in an effort to have the county terminate the two employees.
The United States alleges that despite timely complaints about the harassment by the workers to their supervisors, as well as direct observation of the harassment on several occasions by county supervisory employees, Lee County failed to take any meaningful steps to stop the harassment or discipline the harassers until January 2009, when the harassers were terminated. Through this lawsuit, the United States is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring Lee County to develop and implement policies that would prevent its employees from being subjected to harassment based on race or national origin as well as monetary damages for the victims of the county’s discriminatory actions.
“No one should have to endure harassment because of his or her race or national origin in the workplace,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing this nation’s employment discrimination laws.”
Ferreira, Rivera and Sepulveda initially filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigated the matter, determined there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred and referred the matter to the Justice Department.
The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/ and www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp/.