Judge Affirms $1M Judgment in EEOC Suit against Whirlpool

April 4, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge has affirmed a $1 million judgment against Whirlpool Corporation in a sex and race harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The agency announced that Judge John T. Nixon of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied Whirlpool Corporation’s motion to alter and/or amend the judgment of the court that Whirlpool pay $1,073,261 in damages to the discrimination victim.  

The EEOC’s lawsuit had charged that Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool violated federal law when it tolerated the harassment of Carlotta Freeman, an employee at a Whirlpool plant in LaVergne, Tennessee, by a white male co-worker because of her race (black) and se.x. The abuse lasted for two months, the EEOC said, until the co-worker physically assaulted Freeman and inflicted serious permanent injuries.  

The court heard evidence that Freeman reported escalating offensive verbal conduct and gestures by the co-worker over a period of two months before he physically assaulted her. The court heard that four levels of Whirlpool’s management were aware of the escalating harassment, but that Whirlpool failed to take effective steps to stop it. Further, Freeman suffered devastating permanent mental injuries that will prevent her from working again as a result of the assault and Whirlpool’s failure to protect her.   

According to the EEOC announcement, following a bench trial, in December 2009, Nixon awarded Freeman $773,261 in back pay and front pay, and $300,000 compensatory damages for non-pecuniary injuries.  

In January 2010, Whirlpool requested that the court reduce the damages, claiming that the court had erred when, among other things, it awarded front and back pay without considering the fact that the plant where Freeman worked had closed. Whirlpool also claimed the court erred when it relied on certain information from Freeman’s expert witness.  

In denying Whirlpool’s motion, Nixon noted that it had “wide discretion to make whole the victim of unlawful discrimination.” For that reason, the court “declines to find that failing to so cut off the award of front pay to Freeman constitutes a clear error of law or manifest injustice.” Nixon said, according to the announcement.