All employers can learn a valuable lesson from federal lawsuits by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against two Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants. One of the restaurants is outside of Dallas, and the other is in Arkansas. Both cases involve sexual harassment and assault of female employees, including teens.
In the Texas case, at least one male employee in his 30s allegedly physically and verbally assaulted a female employee. The suit also alleges that multiple male employees made inappropriate sexual comments about female employees in their teens.
No action was taken after employee complaints according to the lawsuits
Both of the EEOC’s suits claim that neither of the restaurants (which are run by different companies) gave their teenage employees training on the sexual harassment policy. They also charge that the restaurants’ managers failed to provide a safe environment for their employees and took no disciplinary action when the young women reported the harassment.
In fact, according to the EEOC, “One restaurant continued to schedule a teen to work shifts with the alleged harasser.” In the Arkansas case, the EEOC says that a male employee, also in his 30s, physically assaulted more than one employee.
The lawsuits, which were brought only after efforts to reach settlements failed, are seeking back pay and lost benefits for the employees as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Further, the restaurants would be required to improve sexual harassment training, policies and practices.
Teens are “particularly vulnerable to harassment”
Sexual harassment of teen workers – particularly females – is a serious issue in industries that employ a lot of young people. The head of the EEOC notes, “Teen workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment because they may not fully understand their workplace rights and often lack the ability or self-confidence to resist unwelcome conduct.”
Sexual harassment allegations can cost businesses considerable time, money and reputational damage. All it takes is one supervisor or manager who fails to act. If you’re facing legal action or even if you want to build a stronger anti-harassment program, it’s wise to have experienced legal guidance.