Justice Department Settles Race and National Origin Lawsuit Against Lee County, Florida
The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with Lee County, Fla. that, if approved by the district court, will resolve allegations 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.
The department’s complaint, previously filed in the Middle District of Florida, alleged that Lee County discriminated against Facilities Management Tradesworkers Leonides Sepulveda, Marco Ferreira, and Eduardo Rivera by subjecting them to racial and ethnic harassment. According to the complaint, from early 2007 through January 2009, the three employees were regularly subjected to racial and ethnic slurs by several of their co-workers. The discriminatory actions by co-workers included mocking Ferreira’s and Rivera’s accents, and making 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 complaint further alleged that despite timely complaints about the harassment by the employees to their supervisors, as well as the supervisors’ direct observation of the harassment, Lee County failed to take any meaningful action to stop the harassment until January 2009, when the harassers were terminated. After the United States filed suit against Lee County, the three employees who were allegedly subjected to race and national original discrimination intervened in the lawsuit.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the federal district court, the county is required to review and, if appropriate, revise its anti-discrimination policies for its workforce to protect its employees from discrimination. The county must also provide mandatory equal employment opportunity training to all Facilities Management employees that includes an emphasis on preventing race and national origin discrimination in the workplace. The settlement agreement also requires the county to pay the three affected employees $292,500 in monetary relief, including compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
“Title VII ensures that employees have the right to work in an environment free of harassment based on their race and national origin,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement demonstrates the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to eradicate discriminatory harassment from the workplace.”
The continued enforcement of Title VII has been and remains 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.usdoj.gov/crt/ .