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Idaho Falls business accused of racial discrimination by federal agency

Elevation Labs is accused of retaliating against an employee for raising allegations of race discrim­ination. | EastIdahoNews.com file photo
IDAHO FALLS — The the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says Elevation Labs of Idaho Falls has violated federal law. The EEOC filed a lawsuit in District Court on Friday, alleging the company had retaliated against an employee who raised concerns of race discrimination.
Elevation Labs, formerly known as Northwest Cosmetics Labs, is a cosmetics company that develops products for prestigious brands. These products include skincare, hair care and color cosmetics. The company has more than 450 full-time employees, according to its website.
In an official statement, Elevation Labs expressed surprise at the EEOC’s decision to file the lawsuit. The company had, the statement said, “given extensive cooperation with (the EEOC’s) investigation.”
What is it all about?
Rachel Robertson Johnson began working as a cosmetic chemist at Elevation Labs in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2016 that she complained to the human resources director. According to a court-filed complaint, she said some white coworkers had told her they “did not know how to handle her” because she was Black, and they allegedly referred to Black people as “thugs.”
When Robertson Johnson reported the “racially insensitive remarks and other unfair treatment,” the HR director told her she “needed to be the bigger person,” and “this is how some people are in Idaho,” according to court documents.
In February 2019, Robertson Johnson once again raised concerns about discriminatory treatment.
“Robertson Johnson complained to the Research and Development (R&D) Director and Formulation Manager that she felt discriminated against due to her race because she had complained about inappropriate comments by some white coworkers,” said the complaint.
The company, the EEOC alleges, did not investigate, nor did it respond to her complaints.
Soon after, Robertson Johnson claimed she was denied a promotion to senior chemist. The EEOC noted that two non-Black chemists with a similar experience and similar time worked at the lab. Her most recent job performance review was very positive as well.
In July of that same year, Elevation Labs’ CEO allegedly warned Robertson Johnson that the company would “part ways” with her if she “made any further discrimination allegations.” Officials say this came after Robertson Johnson asked a guest speaker at a company-sponsored diversity presentation about Elevation Labs’ “lack of diversity and inclusiveness.” The speaker happened to be the CEO’s brother.
Robertson Johnson alleged other managers had told her she wasn’t being promoted because of her past complaints, her relationships with co-workers and her comments to the guest speaker about discrimination. After its investigation, the EEOC stated in a news release that Robertson Johnson had been “forced to quit her job” because of those same issues.
“Such alleged conduct,” said the EEOC in the news release, “violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employers from retaliating against employees who attempt to assert their right to report what they reasonably believe to be discriminatory treatment.”
The EEOC said in its news release that it attempted to reach a prelitigation settlement with Elevation Labs, but efforts failed, leading to the filing of its lawsuit (EEOC v. Elevation Labs LLC) in U.S. District Court.
The EEOC is seeking lost wages for Robertson Johnson and other monetary damages, including compensation for emotional distress. Additionally, it is seeking punitive damages and an injunction that would force Elevation Labs to offer anti-retaliation training to its employees.
Elevation Labs sent this response to the lawsuit in a written statement to EastIdahoNews.com:
“Elevation Labs prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive workplace, with a long track record of engagement with our community here in Idaho.”
The statement then lists several of the charitable organizations the company supports and fundraisers it donates to, including the Idaho Rescue Mission, Dash for Down Syndrome and Toys for Tots.
“While we cannot comment in detail on pending litigation, we are surprised at the EEOC’s action given our extensive cooperation with their investigation and continue to believe that the allegations are without merit. As such, we look forward to vigorously defending ourselves,” the company said.
The post Idaho Falls business accused of racial discrimination by federal agency appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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