Fired for Fighting Bias, HR Chief Says

HOUSTON (CN) – A staffing agency fired its HR director for objecting to its use of code words to fill discriminatory orders, including “blue eyes” to exclude blacks and “work all day” for Hispanics, the woman claims in court.
     Lesle Markle sued Pacesetter Personnel Services, its president Kenneth Joekel and CEO Marc Plotkin in Harris County Court.
     “PPS is a large temporary labor provider based in Houston, Texas with over 70 offices nationwide,” the complaint states.
     Markle claims she became concerned about PPS’ discriminatory practices soon after it hired her as its human resources director, on Oct. 1, 2007.
     “In 2011, plaintiff met twice with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ‘EEOC’ in connection with charges of discrimination that were filed against PPS companies through the San Antonio, Texas EEOC office,” the complaint states.
     “Plaintiff was informed at those meetings that certain illegal and improper employment practices were going on in some of PPS’s locations. Certain words were being used that were discriminatory and not based on a bona fide occupational need. For example, some code that was being used included ‘blue eyes’ and ‘no sunscreen’ to discriminate against African-American temporary workers. ‘Work all day’ was code for Hispanic workers over other races and national origins. ‘Heavy lifting’ was code for no women workers. ‘Energetic’ was code for very young as opposed to older workers.”
     Markle claims that when she tried to address these issues with Joekel and Plotkin, she was “rebuffed and told what the customer wants the customer gets, to let it go, and that’s the way this business works.”
     She says the more she pushed to fix the illegal practices the more strained her relationship with Joekel and Plotkin became.
     “In the latter part of 2011, plaintiff learned that Joekel and Plotkin had a private investigator put a GPS tracking device on her car and also had her followed by investigators,” the complaint states.
     Markle claims Joekel also told her to make false statements for his benefit: “Joekel instructed plaintiff to put his mistress on PPS’ health plan and to use a false address for that individual. Joekel also instructed plaintiff to give false information regarding certain assets of PPS to various creditors and also during settlement of an estate. When plaintiff objected to making false statements and false representations, Joekel became upset and told plaintiff her job required that she had to do as he instructed,” the complaint states.
     Markle says PPS fired her on Feb. 2.
     She seeks reinstatement, lost wages and punitive damages for invasion of privacy, conspiracy, breach of contract, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, retaliation, wrongful termination, and Sabine Pilot violations.
     A Sabine Pilot claim is a Texas complaint of wrongful termination for refusing to engage in fraudulent or criminal conduct. Texas is an employment-at-will or “right-to-work” state.
     Markle is represented by Howard Dulmage.

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