Provider settles EEOC national origin discrimination lawsuit for $335,000

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EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill
EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill

A Colorado company and one of its senior living communities will pay $335,000 to settle allegations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that they violated federal law by implementing an employment exam that discriminated against workers who had emigrated from Africa, according to documents filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in the state and obtained by McKnight's Senior Living.

According to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC in July 2015 against the New Mercer Commons and parent company Columbine Health Systems, four employees who were Ethiopian or Sudanese — Kiros Aregahgn, Mohamed Osman Mahgoub, Sawsan Ibrahim and Hanaa Gual — were fired and were told that it was because they had not passed the new written test.

Aregahgn had been a personal care assistant at the Fort Collins, CO, assisted living community for nine years and began encountering difficulties at her job after a change in management, according to the agency. The EEOC further alleged that a white supervisor, Marlene Hoem, was fired in retaliation after she refused to participate in discriminatory practices against African employees.

The alleged conduct is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits national origin discrimination and retaliation.

“Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also the use of employment criteria, such as exams, that adversely affect employment opportunities but are not sufficiently related to the employment position or required by business necessity,” EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill said at the time the lawsuit was announced. “Employers should validate employment tests to ensure the test is accurately measuring job-related functions. And employers must be careful when implementing these or other similar evaluative criteria to make sure that they comply with law and do not disparately screen out minority candidates who are perfectly able to perform the actual job duties.”

The settlement includes back pay and compensatory damages for the five former employees.

As part of the consent decree, Columbine and New Mercer Commons agreed to use a consultant and inform the EEOC if they wish to use tests or skills assessments for employee hiring, performance evaluations, performance improvement plans, discipline or firing. Columbine and New Mercer Commons also must provide EEO training for all employees.

The company and community also must ensure that employment policies clearly prohibit and state consequences for retaliation and discrimination or disparate treatment based on national origin or race, and they must provide information that employees can use to report related concerns. The policies must be posted in a prominent area frequented by employees.

As part of the agreement, Columbine and New Mercer Commons denied liability as well as the claims.

Columbine Health Systems had not responded to a request for comment from McKnight's Senior Living by the production deadline.

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