Justice Department Settles Discrimination Lawsuit Against an Educational Service Agency in Michigan

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with the Allegan Area Educational Service Agency (AAESA), a government agency providing support, cooperative educational programs, and services to local school districts in Allegan County, Michigan, resolving allegations that AAESA subjected two female teachers to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. 

The complaint, filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleged that AAESA discriminated against two female teachers when they were regularly subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace by their supervisor, a former principal at the school where they all worked. As alleged in the complaint, the sexual harassment included verbal abuse as well as unwanted physical touching that escalated to physical assaults. The principal was later convicted of criminal assault of the teachers. The complaint alleged that AAESA did not take reasonable steps to prevent the principal’s unlawful acts.

Under the terms of a consent decree, which still must be approved by the court, AAESA has agreed to pay $450,000 in total monetary relief to the two teachers. Pursuant to the consent decree, AAESA must review and revise its existing anti-discrimination policies and procedures and implement effective policies to protect its employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. The consent decree requires AAESA to train its employees to ensure that employees understand how and when to report potentially discriminatory behavior and to ensure that any future complaints of discrimination are handled properly. 

“No one should be forced to endure sexual harassment to keep their job,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Justice Department, through its Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, will continue to vigorously enforce federal anti-discrimination laws to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and help ensure that teachers and other dedicated public servants are protected from unlawful harassment in the future.”

“My office is committed to vigorous law enforcement, which includes working with the Civil Rights Division to combat sexual discrimination and harassment in public sector workplaces,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge. “This resolution sends a strong message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the Western District of Michigan and that employers must make serious and meaningful efforts to prevent and address it.”

Both teachers filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigated the charges and found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts by the EEOC, the charges were referred by the EEOC to the Department of Justice. The two teachers intervened in the United States’ suit.

This settlement is part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative announced in February 2018. The Initiative is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach, and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.

Attorneys assigned to the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division represented the United States in this matter.

More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the Civil Rights Division’s website at www.justice.gov/crt

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Author: July 3, 2019

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