Retail chain Bass Pro Outdoor World is accused in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday of discriminating against qualified black and Hispanic job applicants since 2005 and retaliating against those employees who spoke up about the practice.
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.
Bass Pro Shops denied the allegations and accused the EEOC of stereotyping outdoor enthusiasts.
"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," Mike Rowland, the company's vice president for human resources, said in a prepared statement.
Bass Pro said it provided the federal agency with more than 250,000 pages of documentation during the investigation.
"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," Rowland said.
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.