In January 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a 2016 lawsuit against Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Jackson National Life Distributors, LLC, and Jackson National Life Insurance Company of New York (collectively, “Jackson”) for $20.5 million.
In September 2016, the EEOC sued Jackson alleging numerous violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, and retaliation. The lawsuit involved 21 complainants and allegations of widespread discriminatory actions by Jackson employees, including high-level managers. The EEOC alleged that African-American employees were subject to racially demeaning comments and actions. For example, the EEOC noted that Jackson employees called African-American employees “lazy” and referred to them as “resident streetwalkers.” Jackson employees also subjected African-American employees to racially demeaning cartoons. Some Jackson employees even threw objects at the complainants. The EEOC found that the hostile work environment frequently involved actions of high-level managers and executives. Besides racially discriminatory and offensive actions, Jackson employees also created a sexually hostile environment, as sexually charged comments were made to African-American women, and one senior-level manager was noted to have kissed subordinate females on their lips.
African-American and female employees also suffered from alleged discrimination and retaliation related to their employment. According to the EEOC, Jackson passed over these employees and promoted less qualified white male candidates. Jackson allegedly paid African-American and female employees less than white male employees. Jackson also allegedly fired a vice president who refused to take negative actions against African-American female employees who complained about the discriminatory actions and hostile environment.
In resolving the case, Jackson entered into a four-year consent decree, which provides for $20,500,000 in damages, attorney fees, and costs of litigation to 21 former Jackson employees. Jackson must designate an internal compliance monitor, provide additional discrimination training, and retain an independent consultant to analyze current policies and future complaints.
The Jackson settlement demonstrates that the EEOC takes systemic Title VII violations seriously, regardless of the number of complainants. As this case shows, Title VII violations expose an employer to large amounts of damages, even with a relatively small number of complainants. The EEOC is also continuing its enforcement efforts related to claims of unlawful retaliation. The EEOC’s Amy Burkholder, Director of the EEOC’s Denver Field Office, warned employers that “[o]ver 50% of EEOC charges contain a retaliation allegation. … Employers should bear in mind that retaliation is as illegal as race and sex discrimination.”
Employers of all types and sizes, regardless of industry, should ensure that they have up-to-date policies and procedures in place to ensure that managers and employees alike are well-trained regarding anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation rules and regulations. The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman have represented companies of all types and sizes in connection with employment litigation matters, including EEOC investigations and Title VII lawsuits. If your company needs assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.