The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a jury’s decision that EmCare Inc. wrongfully terminated three employees in retaliation for filing complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
In its appeal, EmCare argued that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to present sufficient evidence of a link between one of its former employees, Luke Trahan, and his termination for complaining of the sexual harassment of several female employees.
The appeal's court disagreed.
Trahan and two other former employees, Yvonne Shaw and Gloria Stokes, alleged that Jim McKinney, the CEO of AnesthesiaCare at EmCare, made frequent and persistent sexual remarks and gestures in the workplace.
At trial, numerous witnesses testified to various examples of lewd behavior by McKinney, including frequent comments about women’s bodies such as "asking them to lower their blouses, hike up their skirts, show more cleavage, or turn around."
"He often referred to the size of women’s breasts, made groping gestures, and sought intimate hugs and made inappropriate comments about his employees’ wives, and he offered commentary on which female employees he regarded as “hotties,” according to court documents.
During a “Bring Your Child to Work Day” in June 2009, Shaw says she brought her then 15-year-old daughter to the office. She testified that when she introduced her daughter to McKinney, McKinney stated, “There is no way she is 15 with breasts like that.”
Infuriated, Shaw told Trahan and eventually a jury that McKinney laughed when Shaw became visibly upset. She then went to HR to complain, accompanied by Trahan, who had already complained at least four times to HR about McKinney’s behavior. Again, Trahan submitted a formal complaint.
Despite a positive work evaluation in July 2009, Trahan and the two other employees were fired six weeks after filing their complaints against McKinney. Trahan was told by a supervisor that he was being terminated because “it was not working anymore.” EmCare maintains that Trahan was fired due to the “quality of his work and inaccuracies in his contracts.”
On Aug. 11, 2015, the EEOC filed suit in federal district court, seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages under Title VII on behalf of Trahan, Stokes Shaw.
The jury found in favor of the EEOC and awarded $167,000 to Trahan, $82,000 to Shaw, and $250,000 in punitive damages to Stokes, who the EEOC alleged had been subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex and fired in retaliation for her complaints.
Attorney Marc Oberti of the Oberti Sullivan Law Firm, a firm that helps helps clients through litigation defense and complying with EEOC regulations said told the SE Texas Record this particular case was “bad for the employer right from the start.’
The EEOC files suit on less than 1 percent of all charges it receives,” Oberti said. “So, that it filed suit here tells you that the EEOC thought this was a slam dunk case. As it turns out, the jury and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.”
Oberti said he would suggest EmCare refrain from appealing any further.
“At this point, I don’t see that EmCare has any realistic options other than to pay the judgment and learn from this debacle,” Oberti said. “It should also stop participating in ‘Bring Your Child to Work Day.’”
EmCare declined to comment on the case.