This employment discrimination class action involving women employed at the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc., Normal, Illinois' facility was filed on April 9, 1996, in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois (Peoria). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), sought declaratory, monetary and injunctive relief, on behalf of the women, claiming that Mitsubishi violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, by engaging in a pattern and practice of sexual harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge against female employees.
Specifically, the complaint alleged that, since at least 1990, Mitsubishi had engaged in various unlawful discriminatory and retaliatory conduct, including but not limited to, (1) sexual harassment towards female employees by way of a hostile and abusive work environment based on unwelcome verbal and physical sexual conduct, including sexual graffiti, sexually derogatory comments, and unwanted groping and touching; (2) sexual harassment towards female employees by conditioning their employment (including benefits and/or the terms and/or conditions of their employment) "on their acquiesce in sexual harassment and/or sexual relationships;" (3) the failure to take immediate and appropriate corrective action in response to complaints; (4) retaliation against female employees who have opposed such unlawful practices; and (5) constructively discharging female employees by causing them to resign due to complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation.
The EEOC requested a permanent injunction forbidding discrimination or retaliation and requiring Mitsubishi to implement polices protecting equal employment opportunities for women; monetary damages; punitive damages; and costs.
On September 13, 1996, the EEOC sent a letter to all current and former female employees of the defendant, stating that such employees "should know that [they] are not required to discuss any issues relating to this lawsuit with Mitsubishi's Human Resource Department." A month later, Mitsubishi complained that the letter was potentially misleading and filed a motion for clarification of the letter. Additionally, Mitsubishi argued that the letter undermined its policy of addressing and correcting sexual harassment issues, thereby making sexual harassment more difficult to prevent.
In November of 1996, the court ordered the EEOC to send a corrective letter. The EEOC appealed, and sought a stay from the 7th Circuit. In an opinion by Judge Easterbrook, the Court of Appeals refused the stay, and held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal, which dealt with an issue that was managerial and was unlikely to cause substantial and irreversible damage. 102 F.3d 869 (7th Cir. 1996).
Soon afterwards, Mitsubishi's human resources department began to conduct "scripted interviews" of its employees on topics relating to "claims of sexual harassment that had not previously been brought to the Company's attention," when such claims were revealed through Mitsubishi's litigation-related discovery of the EEOC's administrative files. Mitsubishi stated that the purpose of the interviews was to ensure "no ongoing harassment" in the workplace. Upon the conclusion of each interview, the interviewers would type notes from the interviews and then ask the interviewees to review and sign the notes.
Once the EEOC found out about these interviews, they demanded that they stop immediatly. Mitsubishi agreed in January 1997 "not to engage in any ex parte contacts" with current or former employees who have presented complaints regarding sexual harassment and/or retaliation to the EEOC "prior to the filing of the lawsuit." A month later, instead, the parties came up with a mutually agreeable "mini-deposition" approach regarding information gathering: the EEOC attorneys were to be present and the interviews would be conducted as "notice depositions" according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Further contests about communications with employees led to another opinion in January 2008. 960 F.Supp. 164 (C.D.Ill. 1997).
Shortly thereafter, a Consent Decree ("Decree") was entered on June 23, 1998, which also settled two private actions, Evans v. Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc. (1:94-cv-1545) and Aeschelman v. Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc. (1:96-cv-1212), filed against Mitsubishi alleging sex discrimination and harassment. In the Decree, Mitsubishi agreed to pay $34 million to the individuals who had suffered sexual harassment at Mitsubishi's facility in Normal, Illinois; and to comprehensive injunctive relief. The injunction forbade discriminatory acts on the basis of sex and policies or practices that have the effect of harassing or intimidating women on the basis of their sex; and Title VII related retaliation. It required revised sexual harassment policy, training procedures, and complaint procedures and policies designed to promote supervisor accountability and policies reflecting sensitivity to women's needs. And it set up a panel of consent decree monitors and a complaint monitor. The Decree was, in accordance with its plan, in effect for three years, from 1998 to 2001.
According to a press release from the EEOC, the $34 million monetary relief awarded by the Decree, which was distributed among more than 400 women, was "the largest sexual harassment settlement in the history of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964" as of the late 1990s.Alice Liu - 07/14/2013