Gold Mine Refused to Promote Female Miner Then Retaliated When She Complained, Federal Agency Charged
FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Alaska-based Northern Star (Pogo) LLC, formerly known as Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC, will pay $690,000 and make substantial changes to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Hanna Hurst, one of a few women underground miners to work at Pogo under former Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo ownership, was denied promotions while male colleagues with less seniority or training were promoted. When Hurst complained of the unfair treatment, Pogo retaliated against her by imposing additional training requirements, while allowing male miners to advance without meeting the same requirements.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits denying promotions based on sex. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska [Case No. 4:18-cv-00034-JWS] after an investigation by EEOC Investigator Bryne Moore and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. Hurst was independently represented by the non-profit Equal Rights Advocates.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $690,000 to Hurst in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Pogo to hire an independent expert to evaluate, develop and implement policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure equal employment and enhance accountability and oversight of managers, supervisors and trainers. With that outside expert’s help, the mining company will provide anti-discrimination training to all leadership and employees; make available its EEO policy to all employees and applicants; report to the EEOC all complaints of sex or gender discrimination or retaliation it receives from its employees for the next three years; and post a notice for employees about the consent decree and employees’ rights under federal law.
“Speaking out against sex discrimination at work is hard, but I am really glad I did,” said Hurst. “It’s been a long time coming, but I am hopeful this settlement will help to make the mine a fair workplace for everyone and more open to women. I am thankful to the EEOC and my attorneys at Equal Rights Advocates for standing by me and seeing this through.”
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che said, “Hanna Hurst worked hard to prove her abilities in this challenging industry. She did everything required of her and more. Yet, she was repeatedly passed over for promotion while she watched her male colleagues with less training and seniority rise through the ranks.” Che added, “During Hanna’s employment, Pogo had a discretionary promotion policy applied by male supervisors, who repeatedly showed overt hostility and sexist attitudes toward women at the mine, which ensured that no woman made it to the top-level mining positions.”
“Gender bias continues to be a problem in today’s workplace, certainly no less in those industries traditionally dominated by men.” said EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko. “We commend Northern Star as the new successor company for demonstrating its commitment to see such discrimination doesn’t continue under its leadership.”
According to its website, https://www.nsrltd.com/our-assets/pogo/, Pogo is an underground gold mine operation in remote Alaska and currently employs over 320 employees. Pogo is owned and operated by Northern Star (Alaska) LLC following the acquisition of Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC on September 28, 2018.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.