Whirlpool Corporation, a leading manufacturer of home appliances, has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

The settlement comes nearly six years to the day after the EEOC filed the suit in the Middle District Court of Tennessee.  According to the EEOC’s complaint, a female Whirlpool employee had been subject to continuing harassment by a male co-worker in 2004 because of her sex and race (African-American) at the company’s former LaVergne, Tennessee plant.

The EEOC further alleged that the employee repeatedly reported the harassment to her supervisor, who did nothing.

Three months of harassment allegedly escalated into an unprovoked physical assault in March 2004. According to the complaint, the harasser struck the woman “in the face and knocked her down, then continued to pummel her when she was on the ground.” The attack resulted in serious physical and emotional injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder that prevented the woman from returning to work, the complaint alleged.

The EEOC lawsuit charged that Whirlpool violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it failed to respond to the reports of harassment.

According to the EEOC, a district court judge awarded the employee $1,073,261 in back pay, front pay and compensatory damages on December 21, 2009, following a four day bench trial.

Whirlpool appealed the judgment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The current $1 million dollar settlement puts that appeal to rest.

The lesson here is clear. Employers must train their supervisors on the importance of responding effectively to any reports of sexual harassment at the work place.