Cumberland County settles $1.1 million sexual harassment suit

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Pile of money
Pile of money.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Ten. – Ten women have settled their sexual harassment lawsuit against Cumberland County and the Solid Waste Department, earning a $1.1 million settlement.

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with Cumberland County, Tennessee, to resolve allegations that the county discriminated against ten female employees because of their sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin and religion. Under the terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by the court in the form of a consent decree, Cumberland County will pay approximately $1.1 million in compensatory damages to ten women whom the United States alleged were sexually harassed by the former director of the county’s Solid Waste Department. Cumberland County will also revise its policies, procedures, and training to better prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Today’s resolution, through settlement, will bring some measure of closure and vindication to the vulnerable women who were victimized by the egregious and abusive behavior in this case,” said Pamela S. Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment must not be tolerated in the workplace, and we remain committed to eliminating it root and branch through our vigorous enforcement of Title VII.”

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“No individual should have to endure the unwanted sexual advances of another, especially from someone who wields a position of authority over another as alleged here,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart for the Middle District of Tennessee. “We will seek all available remedies to address such unwanted and unlawful conduct and will continue to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens. They deserve nothing less.”

“State and local governments are among our largest employers. It is important that they understand that the federal anti-discrimination laws also apply to them,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, District Director of the Memphis District of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “The egregious sexual harassment that these women were subjected to contravenes Title VII. The EEOC will continue to collaborate with the Justice Department to ensure the protection of our workers in governmental workplaces.”

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The Justice Department’s complaint, filed March 8, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleged, among other things, that Cumberland County failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the former director of the county’s Solid Waste Department from sexually harassing the women. According to the complaint, the former director regularly subjected the women, who all worked for him, to unwanted sexual contact, including kissing and groping; unwelcome sexual advances, including propositioning the women for sexual favors; and offensive sexual remarks about their bodies and sex acts. The former director has been indicted on criminal charges and is awaiting trial in state court. 

Four of the women had filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC’s Nashville Area Office, in its Memphis District, investigated the charges and found reasonable cause to believe Cumberland County discriminated against the four women and other similarly situated employees. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Justice Department brought this lawsuit as part of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the Department and the EEOC in the vigorous enforcement of Title VII. 

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This lawsuit is part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, which is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.

This lawsuit was handled by Trial Attorneys Jen Swedish and Julia Quinn of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kara Sweet of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section.