May 24th, 2020

During the economic downturn, many Minnesota workers may have turned to temporary employment or staffing agencies to find work. Temporary and contract workers often have different benefits, contracts, and responsibilities than permanent employees, but do they have different employee rights in the workplace?

Both state and federal laws protect employees from being treated unfairly on the basis of their race, sex, age, disability or religion in the workplace. Workers who experience workplace discrimination on the basis of these, or other protected classifications, have the right to seek legal recourse.

Recently, a case that illustrates both temporary and permanent employees are protected from such mistreatment under the law took place in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

In that case, Blockbuster Inc. settled a $2 million lawsuit after being accused of sexually harassing and discriminating against several temporary employees in its distribution center in 2004 and 2005.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the Dallas-based video retailer of not only subjecting several female temporary employees to sexual harassment, but also of retaliating against the women when they, in turn, resisted or complained.

The lawsuit states that three supervisors and other managers violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting the women to the inappropriate behavior.

According to the lawsuit, one woman was frequently asked on dates and for sexual favors in the workplace. In addition, her supervisors threatened her, participated in racial commentary and gave her poor hours and opportunities at work.

Four of the seven women named in the suit are Hispanic, and the EEOC said these women experienced national origin and racial discrimination at work.

At the conclusion of the settlement, the EEOC said that this case should serve as a warning to all companies who have temporary employees or use staffing agencies. All workers – temporary and full-time – are protected under state and federal discrimination and sexual harassment statutes. Even when temporary employees are being paid by the staffing agency rather than the workplace, the workplace employer must still comply with the law.

Source: Business Insurance, “Blockbuster settles sexual harassment retaliation charges for $2M,” Judy Greenwald, Dec. 15, 2011

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