Title VII does not just protect U.S. citizens from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation while on U.S. soil; it also protects U.S. citizens overseas when working for U.S. companies. A recent complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia Alexandria division highlights this. On August 17, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued DynCorp International for hostile environment and retaliation. According to the Complaint [pdf], DynCorp, a military contractor and aircraft maintenance company, employed James Friso overseas. In late 2006, DynCorp transferred Friso to work at its jobsite in Taji, Iraq, where, allegedly, Friso experienced sexually charged harassment because he did not fit the male gender stereotype. The Complaint alleges that Friso was subjected to frequent derogatory comments by a co-worker about him and homosexuality. The Complaint alleges that Friso complained multiple times, but that the company failed to respond. Ultimately, Friso was transferred to Germany, which resulted in a loss of pay. The Complaint argues that this transfer was retaliatory in nature.
U.S. Companies are not immune from allegations of Title VII violations simply because something occurs in a foreign country. Under Title VII and other employment laws, U.S. citizens are protected from discrimination, harassment and retaliation when working overseas for U.S. companies, or for a company that is controlled by a U.S. company. Determining whether a U.S. company “controls” a foreign company depends on an analysis of four factors: (1) interrelation of operations; (2) common management; (3) centralized control of labor relations; and (4) common ownership or financial control.
However the case turns out, it is important to review your policies and practices to ensure they are being enforced overseas as well as at home in the U.S. If you have operations overseas, we suggest review of and specific reminders about your policies with employees overseas, training on your policies, and periodic Human Resources audits to ensure issues do not arise and, if they do, to ensure they are addressed promptly.