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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Bimbo Bakeries USA

February 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge


Plaintiff, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,("EEOC"), brought this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, on behalf of Henry T. Hairston, who is African-American, and a class of similarly situated African-American employees, all of whom the EEOC alleges were adversely affected by a hostile work environment at Defendants' Harrisburg, Pennsylvania plant. Defendant Bimbo Bakeries, Inc. is the parent company of Defendant Stroehmann Bakeries, L.C.*fn1

Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint. Defendants assert two grounds for dismissal: (1) The EEOC did not fulfill its statutory obligation to pursue conciliation of the dispute in good faith; and (2) the claims fail to state a cognizable Title VII violation as a matter of law. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part as to Plaintiff's allegation of constructive discharge. Furthermore, the court concludes that the EEOC did not conciliate the dispute in good faith; however, rather than dismiss the case, the court will stay the proceedings for sixty days so as to allow the EEOC to fulfill its statutory obligation to conduct a good faith conciliation. If conciliation fails, the EEOC will be permitted to amend its complaint to correct the deficiencies noted in this memorandum.

I. Background

A. Facts

The following facts are drawn from the EEOC's complaint, as well as the records relating to the EEOC administrative proceeding.*fn2

Henry Hairston was employed as a Production Operator in Defendants' Harrisburg, Pennsylvania bakery from March 27, 2003, until he resigned on February 9, 2007. (Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 7(a), 7(d).) During some of this time, Defendants also employed Anthony Gross*fn3 and Dave Nelson in their Harrisburg bakery. (Id., ¶ 7(b).) Each of these individuals is African-American. (Id.) Collectively, these individuals will be referred to as Complainants.

Beginning in October 2006, and continuing through January 2007, a white co-worker of the Complainants made racially derogatory comments about African-Americans. (Id.; Doc. 6-3, EEOC Determination.) On one occasion, the co-worker stated: "I am tired of being a plant nigger." (Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 7(b); Doc. 6-3, EEOC Determination.) On another occasion, the co-worker stated that the machines at the bakery were "nigger rigged." (Id.) On another occasion, the co-worker stated that he could have gotten a job with the U.S. Postal Service; however, they were only hiring "dumb niggers from Harrisburg." (Id.) Finally, the co-worker stated directly to Henry Hairston: "Nothing against you, but there are cool black people and there are also niggers." (Id.) After each of these comments, Henry Hairston complained to Defendants' management about the remarks, and was assured that it would be addressed. (Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 7(c).) Nothing changed and Hairston believed that the working environment became so intolerable that he could no longer work there and resigned his employment on February 9, 2007. (Id., ¶ 7(d).)

B. Procedural/Administrative Background

On July 5, 2007, Henry Hairston filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. (See Doc. 6-2, Charge of Discrimination.) In his Charge of Discrimination, Hairston alleged that he experienced a racially hostile work environment based on the comments of his co-worker and the fact that Defendants took no corrective action. Hairston alleges that the situation was so severe that he had no alternative but to quit, and was therefore constructively discharged.

The EEOC began an investigation and assigned investigator Ana Gomez to the charge.*fn4 Gomez sent Defendants letters on October 3, 2007 and on February 13, 2008 requesting information. (See Doc. 7-4 at 9 of 81, 17 of 81.) On March 3, 2008, Defendants submitted a three-page position statement that did not respond to the factual allegations, but instead stated Defendants' position that the Charge of Discrimination did not amount to an actionable hostile work environment. (See id. at 20 of 81.) By letters dated July 22, 2008, August 13, 2008, August 29, 2008, and September 10, 2008 the EEOC attempted to get information from Defendants concerning Henry Hairston's employment. (See id. at 24, 32, 35, and 38 of 81.) The EEOC did receive portions of the information that it requested, but not the bulk of it. By letters dated September 23, 2008 and March 4, 2009, the EEOC again requested information from Defendants. (Id. at 40 of 81 and 43 of 81.) None was forthcoming.

On August 19, 2009, the EEOC issued its Determination Letter finding that reasonable cause existed to believe that Defendants violated Title VII with respect to Hairston by taking no steps to remedy the racially hostile work environment created by Hairston's white co-worker. (Doc. 7-4 at 53-55 of 81.) The EEOC also determined that the racially hostile work environment was so severe that Hairston's resignation constituted constructive discharge. (Id.) On September 3, 2009, the EEOC issued an Amended Determination Letter finding that the hostile work environment extended not only to Hairston but also to a class of African-American individuals.

Included with the September 3, 2009 Amended Determination was a proposed Conciliation Agreement. That agreement requested Defendants to respond within ten days. Defendants assert that they did not receive a complete copy of the agreement until September 11, 2009. (See Doc. 6-5, Sept. 11, 2009 faxed copy of Amend. Determination Ltr. and Conciliation Agreement.) On September 21, 2009, Defendants sent the EEOC a letter signed by Defendants' attorney Michael Puma, Esquire. The letter reads, in relevant part, as follows:

I am writing in response to the conciliation agreement proposed by the [EEOC] to resolve this matter. . . . Based on our review of the [EEOC's] Determination dated August 19, 2009, and the [EEOC's] Amended Determination dated September 3, 2009, however we do not believe that the [EEOC] has received all of the relevant information. Accordingly, we would like to arrange a meeting with you to share additional information that bears on our position with respect to the Commission's conciliation proposal, and to discuss our response to that proposal. At your convenience, please let me know ...

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