EEOC Obtains $170,000 for Female Employees Harassed by Executive Director At the Center of Previous Lawsuit
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Alaska affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA-AK) has agreed to provide $170,000 and other relief to settle a federal lawsuit charging that its executive director targeted four female employees for severe harassment because of their gender, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today. This is EEOC’s second lawsuit against the NEA-AK charging gender-based harassment; the earlier case was settled on behalf of three other women for $750,000 in 2006 (EEOC and Christopher v. NEA-AK and NEA, CV 01-0225 (JKS).
According to the EEOC’s most recent lawsuit, then-Executive Director Thomas Harvey delivered a daily barrage of abusive treatment to female employees and treated men less harshly. The women described Harvey’s face turning bright red and his neck veins bulging out as he shook his fists in their faces and yelled and screamed at them, often reducing these employees to the point of tears. The EEOC also alleges that although top management officials at NEA-AK were aware of Harvey’s abusive behavior, either from directly witnessing it or from receiving complaints, they took no action to stop the abusive behavior and in fact promoted Harvey to his executive position during the EEOC’s first lawsuit on similar charges. The agency’s investigation found that Harvey’s conduct continued through that litigation and resulted in this second lawsuit.
Former Associate Staff Ellen Cruse, who worked at the union for over 20 years, stated, "I am glad this is over and I am able to fully close that chapter. One would hope that NEA-Alaska, after having settled claims with seven current or former employees, would take greater care and attention to the treatment of their employees."
Harassment based on gender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also protects employees who report such offenses from retaliation. The EEOC filed the suit (EEOC and Poole v. NEA-AK, NEA and Thomas Harvey, Civil Action No. 07-00197 RRB) in the U.S. District Court for Alaska after a neutral investigation by EEOC investigator Karen McCloskey and first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. One of the female employees, Denise Poole, intervened in the EEOC’s suit and named the National Education Association and Thomas Harvey as additional defendants pursuant to state law claims. Those state claims were also settled for an unspecified amount.
In addition to the monetary relief to be shared by four women, NEA-AK has agreed to review its employment policies to ensure that they protect employees against discrimination; provide effective means to address complaints of discrimination; and educate employees about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Also, NEA-AK is required to report to the EEOC for four years on its compliance with the consent decree settling the suit.
“We do see repeat offenders in our line of work, but it is rare to sue the same employer for the same extreme harassment by the same manager, under the same top management,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo. “If this is what it takes to send the message though, the EEOC will not hesitate to continue to take action against illegal workplace harassment.”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado added, “It is unfortunate that a teachers’ union, whose primary purpose is to protect union members from abusive work practices, would allow this type of egregious, unchecked harassment to happen to employees in its own workplace.”
According to www.nea.org, the NEA is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 2.7 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. On its web site www.neaalaska.org, NEA-Alaska claims over 11,000 members in 65 local affiliates throughout the state, and has 26 staff working in offices in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.