The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in employment, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Houston after failing to reach a voluntary settlement with the company.
The lawsuit alleged that qualified blacks and Hispanics were routinely denied positions at Bass Pro Shop stores and that managers of stores in Houston, Louisiana and other locations made derogatory racial comments acknowledging the practice.
Larry Whiteley, a spokesman for Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops, said the company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.
The nine-page complaint cites incidents at stores in Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and Alabama, but said the hiring discrimination and retaliation permeated multiple stores in various states.
At one store in the Houston area, the general manager allegedly told the human resources manager that "it was getting a little dark in here, you need to hire some white people," according to the lawsuit. Other managers or supervisors used racial and ethnic epithets to describe blacks and Hispanics, the lawsuit says.
The EEOC also alleged that the company destroyed or did not retain documents related to applications and internal discrimination complaints.
The agency has asked for a permanent injunction against the company to keep it from continuing discriminatory hiring practices and an order that the company "make whole" black and Hispanic applicants and employees with back pay, fair hiring and reinstatement.
Bass Pro Shops issued the following statement:
- Bass Pro Shops denied allegations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the company discriminated against African American and Hispanic applicants in its employment practices and that it retaliated against any employees.
"The EEOC's allegations are contrary to our profound respect for and commitment to our team of experienced and knowledgeable associates, and we are determined to prove them wrong," said Mike Rowland, Vice President-Human Resources. Respect for our associates and our customers is central to the mission of our company, and it has been a key contributor to our success.
Issues regarding discrimination and retaliation are taken very seriously by the company. Bass Pro has long been committed to full compliance with laws against employment discrimination and retaliation, and has policies and procedures to assure compliance with those laws. When violations are discovered, as is inevitable in any large organization with thousands of employees, they are promptly and firmly addressed.
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. Rowland. 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.
In addition, the EEOC staff raised questions about Bass Pro's policy against hiring convicted felons, claiming it discriminates against certain minority groups, even though federal regulations prohibit convicted felons from handling firearms, and Bass Pro sells firearms, ammunition and explosives.
"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.""