The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a national lawsuit Wednesday alleging national retailer Bass Pro Outdoor World LLC engaged in discriminatory hiring practices against African American and Hispanic applicants.
The EEOC filed its claim against the hunting, camping and fishing retailer with the Houston division of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The EEOC lawsuit charged that Bass Pro stores nationwide have routinely denied qualified African Americans and Hispanics positions as cashiers, sales associates, team leaders, supervisor and managers since November 2005.
Bass Pro managers in Houston, Louisiana and other store locations destroyed or failed to keep records and documents of employment applications and internal discrimination complaints that made racially derogatory remarks about minority applicants.
Court documents stated an Indiana manager of a Bass Pro Shop was seen discarding employment applications, saying the name on one application was a "n------ name," and telling a co-worker that "n-----s steal and don't make good employees."
A Houston manager, referring to Hispanic applicants, used derogatory terms such as "wetback" and "Pedro.”
In addition to denying applicants of color, the retailer reportedly retaliated against employees who did not agree with its actions, in some cases firing or forcing them to resign.
"Excluding qualified individuals from employment because of their race or ethnicity or in retaliation for exercising protected rights are fundamental violations of the laws we enforce," Jacqueline A. Berrien, EEOC chair, said.
Mike Rowland, Bass Pro vice president for human resources, denies the charges.
"The EEOC's allegations are contrary to our profound respect for and commitment to our team of experienced and knowledgeable associates and we are determined to prove them wrong," he said in a statement.
Rowland said the lawsuit reflected a stereotyped perception of its customer base.
"This investigation and the EEOC's conduct demonstrate a troubling tendency by the EEOC to stereotype those who love outdoor sports and support conservation as people who unlawfully discriminate or oppose equal opportunity for all," he said.
James Sacher, the regional attorney for the EEOC responded, "I don't know where these comments are coming from."
The EEOC, he said, has statistical evidence based on the number of minority employees working for the company that Bass Pro has employed discriminatory hiring procedures.
Sacher told The Christian Post, "We believe there is a profound underutilization of minority applicants at such a high degree that the likelihood that could happen absent of discrimination is infinitesimal."
Rowland said in his statement that the company does discriminate in the case of convicted felons.
"The EEOC staff raised questions about Bass Pro's policy against hiring convicted felons, claiming it discriminates against certain minority groups, even though federal regulations prohibit convicted felons from handling firearms and Bass Pro sells firearms, ammunition and explosives," he said.
There is no mention of discrimination against former felons in the trial documents.
Sacher responded, "That's not what this case about and that why it's not in the complaint."
EEOC attorneys tried to initiate discussions with Rowland and the company before launching the lawsuit. Sacher said Rowland only allowed them to interview him for two hours. Although Rowland said Bass Pro provided more than 250,000 pages of documents to the EEOC, Sacher said the company did not provide any evidence that the company is utilizing fair hiring practices.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The agency is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting Bass Pro from engaging in race discrimination, national origin discrimination, retaliation and improper record destruction.
It is also seeking back pay and reinstatement on behalf of victims of hiring discrimination and/or retaliation, compensatory and punitive damages.
Bass Pro, a Springfield, a Mo.-based company, operates close to 60 stores across America and Canada.