Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

NIH’s security firm settles job bias claim for $1.6M

The old Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse in Washington houses the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Headquarters and Washington Field Office (WFO). (Wikimedia Commons / AgnosticPreachersKid / “Woodward_and_Lothrop_Service_Warehouse” / CC BY-SA 3.0 / cropped and resized)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission headquarters and Washington Field Office. (Wikimedia Commons / AgnosticPreachersKid / “Woodward_and_Lothrop_Service_Warehouse” / CC BY-SA 3.0 / cropped and resized)

The National Institutes of Health’s security firm has agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle a federal agency’s claim that it systematically harassed, discriminated and retaliated against employees born in Africa.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged MVM Inc. subjected African-born employees to termination without cause, heightened scrutiny, intimidation, suspension and trumped-up charges of misconduct and poor performance at Bethesda-based NIH between October 2013 and September 2017. The Ashburn, Virginia-based company also denied leave to these employees and forced them to work on their scheduled days off, the EEOC claimed in a lawsuit filed three years ago in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

In addition, African-born employees who complained of the mistreatment were fired, suspended, assigned to undesirable posts, had their hours reduced or were falsely accused of misconduct, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on national origin discrimination, EEOC alleged.

“Employees are entitled to work in an environment free of offensive or derogatory remarks about their birthplace, ethnicity, culture, language or foreign accent,” EEOC Assistant General Counsel Maria Salacuse said in a statement Thursday announcing the settlement. “Combating systemic harassment in the workplace remains a priority for the EEOC.”

MVM admitted no wrongdoing in agreement to the settlement.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at MVM, and while we maintain we were in compliance with all applicable workplace regulations in this matter, we determined it was not in our best interest to pursue further litigation,” the company said in a statement.

“As a minority-founded, owned and operated business, MVM is proud of our long record of recruiting and hiring employees from diverse backgrounds, resulting in nearly 80 percent of MVM employees self-identifying as an ethnic minority,” the company added. “We do not tolerate discrimination of any type and take all allegations of discrimination very seriously.”

Under the agreement, the $1.6 million will be distributed among the class of African-born employees alleged to have been discriminated against. Any funds not distributed would be donated to organizations that provide education or job training to African immigrants, the agreement stated.

Class members who were classified as having been fired for cause will be reclassified as having voluntarily resigned, the agreement added.

MVM can mention only these former employees’ dates of employment and voluntary resignation when providing information to other employers or entities checking references, under the accord. The company cannot state or imply that it is providing the information to comply with a settlement agreement.

MVM is required to train its managers and human resources staff on their obligations to comply with Title VII’s prohibition on national origin bias. MVM must also submit annual reports to EEOC for the next two years on any complaints received regarding national-origin bias and the company’s response to those complaints, under the agreement.

“We appreciate MVM’s willingness to work together with us to resolve this lawsuit so that those who were affected by the discrimination can be appropriately compensated and the company implements appropriate equitable measures to ensure this does not happen again,” Debra M. Lawrence, EEOC’s Philadelphia regional attorney, said in a statement Thursday.

The case was docketed at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt as EEOC v. MVM Inc., 1:17-cv-02864-TDC.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact