Bass Pro to Pay $10.5 Million to Settle Hiring Discrimination Claims

Company agreed to strengthen its diversity hiring and recruiting practices

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Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC has agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) race and national origin discrimination lawsuit.

In a 2011 complaint, the EEOC alleged that the national sporting goods retailer engaged in companywide discriminatory hiring practices. The agency asserted that black and Hispanic job applicants were passed over because of their race or national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Additionally, the EEOC claimed that Bass Pro unlawfully retaliated against workers who opposed such practices and that the retailer failed to adequately follow record-keeping laws and regulations.

Bass Pro didn't admit to any wrongdoing. "The company is fully committed to the expansion of its ongoing efforts to attract a more diverse workforce," according to a written statement from Bass Pro.

As part of a consent decree, the company agreed to strengthen its diversity efforts and its commitment to nondiscriminatory hiring practices.

"The EEOC commends Bass Pro for its efforts in bringing the pending litigation to a conclusion, and for its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce," said Rudy Sustaita, the agency's regional attorney in the Houston district office.

The $10.5 million figure "does not include the significant legal expenses Bass Pro undoubtedly racked up defending this nationwide lawsuit," noted Tom Spiggle, an attorney with the Spiggle Law Firm in Arlington, Va.

Daniel Prywes, an attorney with Morris, Manning & Martin in Washington, D.C., said the case holds two key lessons for employers.

"First, try harder to settle cases earlier," he said. "This case involved 10 years of investigation and expensive litigation, involving alleged discrimination dating back to 2005. The EEOC should heed the same lesson."

Second, Prywes said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." He noted that many of the remedies ordered—such as regular equal employment opportunity (EEO) training—after 10 years of litigation are simply good HR practices.   

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

Alleged Discriminatory Practices

"One of the most shocking aspects of this case was its scope," according to R. Scott Oswald, an attorney with The Employment Law Group in Washington, D.C. "The EEOC alleged a pattern of racist hiring that had infected literally dozens of Bass Pro locations across the United States."

In its fourth amended complaint, the agency cited specific incidents of alleged race and national origin discrimination since 2005 at stores in numerous states.

For example, the complaint alleged that the general manager of a store in Katy, Texas, told the store's HR manager that "it was getting a little dark in here. You need to hire some white people."

A black job applicant waiting to interview at a Hampton, Va., store in 2009 was allegedly told by a white employee that "n-----s" … "aren't allowed to work here."

A loss prevention agent in Indiana allegedly said Hispanic people "should be shot at the border by the border patrol." And an assistant general manager in Broken Arrow, Okla., said the general manager of his store accused him of hiring the "Rio Grande Express."

Corporate managers were "on a mission to just hire whites," a store HR manager in Peal, Miss., testified.

Bass Pro maintains that it didn't engage in any unlawful practices based on race or national origin, according to the consent decree.

However, the company agreed to hire a director of diversity and inclusion, engage in affirmative outreach efforts to increase diversity in its stores, and provide annual EEO training.

"Hopefully the tone at the top of Bass Pro will start to change now, based on the consent decree," Oswald said.

Improved Hiring Practices

Bass Pro has also agreed to update its EEO policies and hiring practices. Among other things, the retailer agreed to:

  • Post job openings at schools with a significant minority population.
  • Participate in job fairs held in communities with large minority populations.
  • Post job openings in publications that have been historically popular with black and Hispanic audiences.
  • Develop a diversity and inclusion section of its website that lists job opportunities and discusses inclusion efforts.

In some ways, the decree didn't go far enough, Oswald told SHRM Online. He said, for example, it's not enough just to send recruiters to job fairs at historically black colleges and universities.

He added that the decree's focus on hiring is fine, and its safeguards against discrimination and retaliation are appropriate.

"But diversity does not stop at the door," he said. "Offering jobs to a broader range of people is necessary, but real change comes from offering those people growth and advancement after hiring—so that, ultimately, the tone at the top comes naturally, because diversity has finally reached that level."

Spiggle noted that employers should have well-documented diversity practices that are built by soliciting input from line managers and other employees to achieve buy-in.

"The company should regularly discuss these policies through ongoing training and discussions so that encouragement of diversity becomes part of the company culture," he said, adding that the key is having diverse leadership and an executive in the C-suite who is responsible for measurable diversity objectives. 

 

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