Investigating Complaints & Conducting Interviews: Cautionary Tales for Companies

By Linda H. Evans,
Senior Associate.




Hillshire Brands Company in Paris, Texas, was sued this week by the EEOC. The EEOC claims the company subjected a class of African-American employees to a racially hostile work environment, including racially offensive graffiti and comments at the workplace.


According to the suit, a group of about 70 employees was subjected to racist graffiti, including racial epithets, drawings, and other racist symbols scrawled on bathroom walls of the plant. Some of the employees were also called racial slurs by a supervisor and other white co-workers. EEOC claims its investigation found that company officials ignored the complaints of the employees about unfair treatment at the plant.


In addition to monetary damages for the class of African-Americans affected by the hostile environment, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and correct race discrimination. If the EEOC prevails, this could be a costly problem for the company.


Tips for employers: Take complaints seriously! Even if they seem frivolous, always do a prompt investigation. Have procedures in place for employees to use when they want to report discrimination and follow the procedures.




A Texas judge ordered Pastazio’s Pizza, a Dallas-area pizza shop, and its owner to pay $21.4 million to an 18-year-old waitress the owner admitted to sexually attacking during a job interview in 2011. The young woman was looking for a job and was talking with the restaurant’s owner about an interview when he repeatedly put beer and whiskey shots in front of her and pressured her to drink them. After nearly 10 drinks, she was put in a car and driven to a hotel where she was in and out of consciousness and later raped.


Texas restaurants and bars can learn a lesson from this horrific example about the necessity of checking IDs for patrons and refusing to serve those who are underage. Standard interviewing practices clearly do not involve plying applicants with alcohol or allowing interviews to be conducted by untrustworthy managers. Unfortunately, this interview was conducted by the owner himself.


Tips for employers: Have protocols in place for interviews and use them. Make sure the folks who do your interviews are trained and know how to properly conduct an interview.