Last month, a federal court in Texas approved a settlement between the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC that alleged widespread hiring discrimination and retaliation.

Alleged discriminatory practices

The EEOC claimed that Bass Pro denied African-American and Hispanic applicants and workers various positions at many stores nationwide over a period of several years. The agency sought back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and reinstatement or hiring for mistreated applicants and former employees, as well as changes to hiring procedures.

Agreed-upon hiring changes

The settlement between the EEOC and Bass Pro requires the company to pay $10.5 million into a fund to be disbursed to eligible claimants (earlier in the case, the agency had asserted that Bass Pro’s potential liability could reach $300 million). The agreement also requires Bass Pro to increase its efforts to hire a more diverse workforce by doing the following:

  • Engaging in “good faith efforts” to recruit more qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants, including reaching out to colleges with significant minority populations to post openings, and posting openings on websites directed toward the Hispanic community.
  • Separately training non-managers and managers on Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on race and national origin; the training will be conducted by a trainer approved by the EEOC.
  • Creating an Office of Diversity and Inclusion and hiring a diversity director to oversee it.
  • Adding a diversity and inclusion section to its website that includes a written description of hiring procedures.

In settling the case, Bass Pro did not admit liability. In recent years, the EEOC has also sued other large retailers for alleged race and national origin discrimination in hiring, including Cabela’s (with which Bass Pro has a pending merger agreement), Abercrombie & Fitch, Auto Zone, and Walgreens.

Lessons for employers

Some of the diversity efforts agreed to by Bass Pro in its settlement with the EEOC are good human resources practices and can be incorporated by all employers. This is especially true with training, as managers and supervisors should know the requirements of Title VII and other equal employment opportunity laws.

In addition, employers can make sure managers responsible for hiring clearly understand interview guidelines and best practices. Also, employers can promptly investigate complaints about discrimination and retaliation; it is better to resolve complaints internally than to have to respond to anEEOC investigation. Finally, executives and HR professionals should make it clear that the company does not tolerate discrimination based on race, national origin, or any other protected category.