Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit agains Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC alleging that the company “engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to hire African-American and Hispanic applicants for positions in its retail stores nationwide, and retaliated against employees who opposed the discriminatory practices.”
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
The EEOC’s suit alleges that qualified African-Americans and Hispanics were routinely denied retail positions such as cashier, sales associate, team leader, supervisor, manager and other positions at many Bass Pro stores nationwide.
The lawsuit alleges that managers at Bass Pro stores in the Houston area, in Louisiana, and elsewhere made overtly racially derogatory remarks acknowledging the discriminatory practices, including that hiring black candidates did not fit the corporate profile.
The lawsuit also claims that Bass Pro unlawfully destroyed or failed to keep records and documents related to employment applications and internal discrimination complaints. Bass Pro punished employees who opposed the company’s unlawful practices, in some instances firing them or forcing them to resign.
Bass Pro has come back very strongly to dispute these charges. They note that they have policies and procedures in place regarding employment discrimination and if and when violations are found, they are “promptly and firmly addressed.”
On the other issues they say,
Bass Pro said it is extremely disappointed by the EEOC’s decision to take action. “The company has cooperated with the EEOC throughout its investigation, providing extensive documentation and numerous witnesses,” said Mr. (Mike) Rowland, (VP-Human Resources). Bass Pro vigorously denies the EEOC’s allegations that the Company engaged in unlawful document destruction. It is our policy to retain all documents required by law. “We provided more than 250,000 pages of documents to the EEOC,” Mr. Rowland said.
“Despite our cooperation, the EEOC made unrealistic demands during conciliation. The EEOC cannot or will not tell us the basis for the analysis they claim to have conducted,” he said. “Fundamental fairness and good faith should require that the EEOC reveal the evidence on which its claims are based before filing a lawsuit that will be long, expensive and disruptive.”
“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,” Mr. Rowland said. For example, EEOC staff investigators have suggested on several occasions that because Bass Pro sponsors a NASCAR race team the company is more likely to discriminate against minorities.
Another issue of contention between Bass Pro and the EEOC was Bass Pro’s policy of not hiring convicted felons. The EEOC contended that it “discriminates against certain minority groups.” However, Bass Pro is not just a fishing store anymore and is, in fact, one of the larger firearms retailers nationwide. Federal regulations prohibit convicted felons from handling firearms and ammunition.
Bass Pro concludes by saying:
“Bass Pro has long been a significant supporter of numerous youth development and conservation programs that give outdoor opportunities to inner-city diverse youth. As we challenge these unfair and unfounded charges, we want to assure the millions of people from all walks of life who visit our stores annually that Bass Pro will continue to provide the one-of-a-kind experience they have come to expect,” Mr. Rowland said. “And we will do so while fully complying with the law.”
Bass Pro broke ground on their newest store in Harlingen, TX earlier this year. The population of Harlingen is almost three-quarters Latino. If they were not serious about serving a diverse clientele, they would not have bothered to open a store in the Rio Grande Valley.
Modern companies – and given the growth of Bass Pro, I’d classify them as modern – realize that they cannot discriminate in either hiring or in serving their customers. It is just bad business and hurts the bottom line.