EEOC Obtains $340,000 for Caregivers Harassed Daily by 80-Year-Old Client

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, R. MacArthur Corp. agreed to pay $340,000 in damages to five former employees resulting from a client’s inappropriate sexual conduct. R. MacArthur Corp.’s successor, San Oak Caring Hands LLC, agreed to implement measures to prevent future harassment.

According to the EEOC’s suit, “caregivers employed by RMC, a franchisee of Home Instead Senior Care, reported that an 80-year-old client in Alameda, Calif., repeatedly groped them, offered lewd com­ments about their breasts and buttocks, and made additional racially and sexually offensive comments while they were providing in-home assistance.” The EEOC claimed that the employer failed to act on employee complaints and even retaliated against one complaining caregiver by refusing to place her in other available assignments.

The employee who brought the charge to the EEOC said, “I’m hoping this settlement will encourage other in-home caregivers to realize that while we take care of people, we also deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and the laws protect us from harassment even when our workplace is inside someone else’s home.”

Under a five-year consent decree settling the suit, RMC will pay $340,000 to five caregivers. San Oak Caring Hands, the entity that now owns and operates RMC’s Home Instead franchises, will institute thorough anti-harassment training and policies that emphasize prevention, prompt correction and compe­tent investigation. San Oak will engage a consultant to review discrimination matters and provide perio­dic reporting of its training, policies and complaint investigation to the EEOC.

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Linda Ordonio-Dixon said, “It’s important that we send a clear message that harassment is not part of a caregiver’s job description and that employers must do what they can to prevent and correct any abuses, even if the workplace happens to be in a client’s home. In-home care­givers can be particularly vulnerable to harassment, and one of the EEOC’s top priorities is to defend vulnerable workers against discrimination.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo noted, “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health aides have been projected to be the fourth-fastest growing occupation in the nation. In fact, California has just passed legislation, AB 3082, ensuring that the state Department of Social Services develop anti-harassment training and a method to track cases of sexual harassment of in-home care providers.”

One of the difficulties in caring for persons with diminished capacity is the lack of impulse control. Some care recipients lack the ability to control their sexual comments and conduct. Placing employees in such an environment creates a risk for the employer, but the person still requires care. The company may have to choose between providing services to a client that requires services and protecting its employees from unlawful harassment. Having handled several similar cases, I know this is a very difficult decision.

There are steps employers can take to protect employees even if the client’s medical condition creates a potentially hostile work environment. Open communication channels are necessary, and the company has to ensure the employees know that their protection is important. If an employer cannot establish sufficient measures to protect the employees, the company may not be able to provide the services the client needs.

Original Article by Robert Nuddleman of the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims, and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.