Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced settlement of a sexual harassment suit involving 89 employees of the largest Burger King franchisee. The EEOC's suit alleged that these female employees, many of whom were minors, were subjected by managers and coworkers to severe harassing behavior ranging from obscene jokes and comments to sexual assault and rape. The suit also claimed that employees who complained about the harassment had their hours cut or were fired outright.
Several years ago, the EEOC announced a special litigation enforcement priority effort for the restaurant industry, focusing on treatment of minor employees. The agency stated that these employees were especially vulnerable to harassment at the hands of older managers. The EEOC said that the enforcement focus was intended to cause such employers to improve upon anti-harassment policies and monitoring procedures within these restaurants.
In addition to the monetary settlement, the franchisee agreed to a range of remedial steps including enhanced manager training, better tracking of harassment claims, posted notices in restaurants regarding the employers' prohibition against harassment and identifying complaint procedures, and EEOC monitoring of the results of these steps. Employers in the hospitality industry should be especially sensitive to legal and business risks from sexual harassment claims. Risk prevention measures should include rigorous training, reporting, investigatory and remedial policies and procedures.