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Are temps protected from discrimination and sexual harassment?

State and federal laws dictate that employees may not be treated unfairly on the basis of their race, sex, age, disability or religion in the workplace. Those who experience workplace discrimination on the basis of these, or other protected classifications, have the right to file a legal claim to seek justice.

But, what happens if the employee who was treated unfairly is only a temporary worker, or is technically employed by a staffing agency rather than the offending workplace? A recent sexual harassment and discrimination case that took place in Gaithersburg, Maryland, illustrates that both temporary and permanent employees are protected from such mistreatment under the law.

Blockbuster Inc. recently settled a $2 million lawsuit that accuses the video retailer of sexually harassing and discriminating against several temporary employees in its Gaithersburg distribution center in 2004 and 2005.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the Dallas-based company not only subjected several female temporary employees to sexual harassment, but also retaliated against the women when they resisted sexual advances and complained about the treatment.

One woman was allegedly frequently asked on dates and for sexual favors at work. She also experienced threats, unwanted sexual-related inquiries, racial comments and discriminatory hours and opportunities at work, according to the EEOC's lawsuit which was filed in 2007.

Four of the seven women involved are Hispanic, and the EEOC said they experienced national origin and racial discrimination.

The lawsuit alleged that three supervisors and other managers violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting the women to the inappropriate behavior.

The EEOC and other employment experts have said that this case should be a warning to all companies who have temporary employees or use staffing agencies. Even if the temporary employees are being paid by a staffing agency, the workplace employer must still follow state and federal discrimination and sexual harassment statutes.

Source: Business Insurance, "Blockbuster settles sexual harassment retaliation charges for $2M," Judy Greenwald, Dec. 15, 2011

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