A federal judge has entered a consent decree approving a $725,000 settlement against former-Federal-Way-based precious metals dealer, Northwest Territorial Mint, to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced on Tuesday.
The commission was able to prosecute its suit on behalf of five former employees even after the company filed for Chapter 11, and the bankruptcy court has authorized the trustee handling the mint’s business matters to enter into the settlement, according to a press release.
The commission alleged that the owner Ross Hansen sexually harassed female employees to a point where one worker was forced to quit and the other female victims were fired. The commission investigation found that Hansen repeatedly made lewd sexual comments to and about his female employees, including telling offensive sexual jokes, using derogatory terms for female genitalia, and commenting on women’s breast sizes and body shapes, according to the press release.
“I faced shocking, sexually explicit behavior, but the owner’s bullying and screaming at me was just as bad,” former receptionist Patricia Hoffman said in statement. “I was just trying to make a living for myself and my family, but I finally said, ‘I cant take this anymore’ and quit.”
Sexual harassment and forced resignation violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit (EEOC v. Northwest Territorial Mint, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-01554) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Seattle Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Because the mint is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization proceedings, the settlement entitles the EEOC to bring the $725,000 claim against the mint in bankruptcy court, and the EEOC class member claims will depend on the outcome of the bankruptcy proceeding.
In addition to the monetary component of the settlement, Northwest Territorial Mint agreed to completely overhaul its sexual harassment policy and practices, according to the press release. It will also report to EEOC on settlement compliance, including complaints of sexual harassment against Hansen, for six years if Hansen owns part of the reorganized company, is a board member, or is employed in any capacity by the entity or successor to the mint.
“The EEOC will not be deterred from prosecuting sexual harassment cases just because a company files for bankruptcy,” the commission’s supervisory trial attorney John Stanley said in the press release. “If the company is reorganizing, it is in everyone’s best interest that awareness and prevention of harassment gets front-loaded into the company’s rights to a workplace free from discrimination and harassment.”
The commission advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.