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Rockville-based ACM to pay $415K to settle EEOC suit

A Rockville-based environmental remediation company will pay $415,000 and revamp its training and recruitment policies to settle federal claims of sexual harassment and gender- and race-based discrimination.

ACM Services Inc. admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the consent decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accused the company of sexually harassing two Hispanic female employees over the course of several years and firing them when they complained.

The company also refused to recruit or hire black applicants and rejected female job seekers, the EEOC said in the lawsuit filed Monday. The consent decree was filed Tuesday afternoon and is pending before U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm in Greenbelt.

“ACM is very proud of the stellar reputation it has built over many years of hard work,” ACM’s attorney, Jeffrey M. Schwaber, said in an email message Tuesday. “ACM denies any wrongdoing, but has a company to run, and after years of back and forth discussion with EEOC about this matter, ACM made the difficult decision to settle this case in a manner that avoided the enormous cost and distraction of protracted litigation, and to move on with the work it is set up to do. The matter has been resolved by agreement, and ACM looks forward to continued service and success.”

Schwaber is with Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll P.C. in Rockville.

Debra M. Lawrence, the EEOC regional attorney who filed the lawsuit, did not return telephone messages seeking comment on the decree Tuesday afternoon.

Founded in 1990, ACM specializes in asbestos, lead and mold removal and remediation, according to its website. While ACM is a private firm, the online business directory Manta estimates the company has more than 50 employees and annual revenue in the $20 million to $50 million- range.

Of the settlement amount, $110,000 will be paid to the two women employees who claimed harassment. Nancy Aronez will receive $75,000; Yansi Carranza, $35,000.

Another $305,000 will be put into an interest-bearing escrow fund and paid to a class of “Eligible Hiring Claimants” (black and female applicants whom the EEOC concludes ACM rejected due to their race or gender) and “Eligible Recruitment Claimants” (black would-be applicants who were not recruited due to their race), according to the commission.

“The determination of eligibility to receive payment from the Class Fund and the amounts to be paid to EEOC’s Eligible Hiring Claimants and Eligible Recruitment Claimants shall be made solely by EEOC in accordance with a claims process and eligibility criteria established by EEOC,” the decree states.

Any funds not distributed after two years and 11 months will be paid to a charity that provides job training to low-income and homeless people, the decree provides.

The consent decree, which will be in effect for three years, also bars ACM from relying exclusively on word-of-mouth advertisements for job vacancies and requires the company to post them with state and local employment agencies.

The EEOC alleged that ACM had a “pattern and practice” of such advertising, which had the effect of not reaching black would-be applicants.

“When employers rely exclusively on current employees to spread information concerning job vacancies to their family, friends and acquaintances, unless the workforce is already racially and ethnically diverse, such word-of-mouth recruiting can create a barrier to equal employment opportunity for racial or ethnic groups that are not already represented in the employer’s workforce — and this violates federal law,” Lawrence said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed Monday.

The EEOC said ACM’s actions violated Title VII of the 1964 and 1991 Civil Rights acts, which prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis or gender, race and national origin and ban retaliation against employees who assert their rights under the laws.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC claimed Aronez and Carranza were subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, “displays of graphic sexual images” and comments disparaging Hispanic women. Those incidents occurred at various times between 2007 and 2010, the suit alleged.

Aronez was fired on July 9, 2010, for objecting to the harassment she had received for the prior 10 months, the commission said. Carranza was harassed between Jan. 18, 2008 and June 15, 2009, when she was fired in retaliation for her complaints, EEOC alleged.

 

 

About Steve Lash

Steve Lash covers federal and Maryland appellate courts and the General Assembly’s judiciary committees for The Daily Record. He joined the newspaper in 2008 after spending nearly 20 years covering the U.S. Supreme Court and legal affairs for several publications, including the Houston Chronicle, Cox Newspapers, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and West’s Legal News. Lash, a graduate of American University’s Washington College of Law, is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court and Maryland bars.