Mach Mining, EEOC Ink $4.25M Pact in Landmark Sex Bias Case

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By Patrick Dorrian

Illinois coal miner Mach Mining LLC and a group of affiliated companies will pay $4.25 million to settle sex bias claims by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including those in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court ( EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC , S.D. Ill., No. 11-cv-00879, consent decree filed 1/25/17 ).

The companies also agreed to certain hiring goals that the agency expects will result in the hiring of 34 women into coal production positions. They also will boost efforts to recruit women for such jobs and hire a woman as a consultant to set strategies and policies for recruiting, hiring and integrating women as mining employees.

The agreement resolves a 2011 lawsuit against Mach Mining and a separate 2016 lawsuit against Mach, St. Louis-based Foresight Energy and 11 other companies. The lawsuit alleged that women were effectively excluded from underground mine work and other coal production jobs, according to a consent decree filed Jan. 25 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The companies excluded women from these “non-office jobs” by only hiring applicants who were referred by a current employee, a practice that had a disparate impact based on sex, the EEOC claimed.

The 2011 case spurred a procedural question that ultimately was answered by the Supreme Court—whether and how far a court may delve into the EEOC’s efforts to try to resolve a charge of discrimination prior to any lawsuit against an employer. The Supreme Court held in April 2015 that the scope of judicial review of the agency’s “conciliation” efforts is narrow because the EEOC has considerable discretion over the conciliation process.

Traditionally Male-Dominated Field

The mining jobs at issue are an example of the type of traditionally male-dominated career that has been difficult for women to enter despite the passage of the principal federal equal job rights law more than 50 years ago, Gregory Gochanour, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, said Jan. 25 in a statement announcing the settlement.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of these cases, as they will lead directly to the hiring of a significant number of women into mining positions,” he said. “The number of women participating in mining, construction and similar ‘heavy’ industries is very small, despite the high wages these jobs bring. During the litigation of this case, EEOC found scores of women who were willing, able and qualified to work in the mines. Very few of them ever had the opportunity to do so. With these resolutions, we are a step closer to leveling the playing field.”

Because the procedural issue in the 2011 lawsuit was pending for so long, neither case had advanced far into the litigation process at the time of settlement, Julie Bowman, the district director of the EEOC’s Chicago office, added.

“Though it has been some years since EEOC first filed suit, these cases were actually resolved fairly early in the litigation process,” she said. “No depositions have yet been taken in the case, sparing both EEOC and the companies the expenditure of significant resources.”

Bowman lauded the Foresight companies for their cooperation in resolving the lawsuits and for volunteering, as part of the agreement, to hire a consultant “to help ensure that the integration of women miners into the workforce goes smoothly and is successful.”

Foresight Energy LP confirmed to Bloomberg BNA that “it has resolved all federal lawsuits against it and several of its subsidiaries” filed by the EEOC, and that it did not admit liability on the agency's hiring discrimination allegations. “Foresight remains an equal opportunity employer and will continue to ensure that its policies, practices, training and recruiting efforts promote diversity and equality,” Senior Corporate Counsel and Director of Investor and Media Relations Gary M. Broadbent said in a Jan. 26 e-mail.

Settlement Allocated Over Two Cases

The EEOC’s complaint in the first case targeted alleged sex discrimination in hiring at Mach Mining’s facility in Johnston City., Ill. The company “has never hired a single female for a mining-related position” and didn’t have a women’s restroom on the premises, the agency charged. The second lawsuit concerned alleged sex bias at five mining facilities operated by Mach or related Foresight Energy companies.

The three-year decree approved Jan. 25 in a separate order signed by Judge J. Phil Gilbert calls for $1,550,00 of the $4.25 million in monetary relief be allocated to the first lawsuit and the remaining $2,700,000 to the second case. Eligible claimants include any women who applied for a mining position at any of those mines or who the EEOC determines unsuccessfully attempted to apply or was deterred from applying for such a position at any of the mines, according to the decree.

The 34 mining positions expected to be filled by women under the pact are allocated over four of the mines, and the companies must use best efforts to offer one of every three surface mining and one of every three underground mining position to a female applicant until the 34-position hiring goal is met. The EEOC will provide the companies with an initial list of women interested in mining positions at each of the four mines.

In addition, the companies are required to provide all of the local colleges and training centers from which they’ve recruited miners with a written notice that they are equal opportunity employers and that the schools and centers should encourage female students to apply for mining jobs at the mines. The companies also must inform all employment agencies they’ve used to fill mining positions in the prior two years that they’ve entered into the consent decreeand that female candidates are welcome and should be referred, the agreement states.

The companies also agreed to fulfill certain notice-posting, training, record-keeping, reporting and other requirements during the term of the decree.

The companies and their attorneys didn’t respond Jan. 26 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

EEOC attorneys Ann Henry, Deborah L Hamilton and Ethan M.M. Cohen also represented the agency. R. Lance Witcher and Sarah Jean Kuehnel of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. in St. Louis represented the companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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