Whirlpool will pay a former employee of its now-shuttered La Vergne factory more than $1 million as part of a judgment in a federal harassment and discrimination suit.
U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon found for the plaintiff, Carlota Freeman, an African American, in a suit filed on her behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006.
Freeman alleged a pattern of harassment by Willie Baker, a male co-worker, that included sexually and racially charged comments and songs, including highly sexualized versions of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and James Taylor’s “Carolina On My Mind.”
Charlie Fisher, the manufacturing supervisor, told Freeman to “go ahead and [have sex with Baker] and get it over with” after Freeman complained, saying “maybe [Baker] would leave you alone,” responses Nixon called “callous” and showing a “shocking lack of interest” in correcting the behavior by Whirlpool management.
Eventually, on March 26, 2004, Baker "struck Ms. Freeman in the face and knocked her down, then continued to pummel her when she was on the ground," according to the complaint.
Baker was told to leave the plant “before the police arrived,” was suspended and eventually fired for gross misconduct. Freeman took an open-ended leave of absence after the act, but quit her job in December 2004 on the advice of her doctors after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The suit was one of many filed against the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Fortune 500 company between 2004 and 2007 for racial and sexual harassment and discrimination at the Rutherford County plant. Whirlpool won a victory in one such case earlier this year.
In his judgment, Nixon said, despite many chances to squash the behavior, Whirlpool did nothing to correct Baker’s behavior.
“The facts show a failure of every level of management at Whirlpool, from Charlie Fisher, Baker’s direct supervisor, through to the Manager and Director of Human Resources,” Nixon wrote.
Neither Whirlpool corporate communications nor the company’s attorney’s responded to requests for comment.