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A company that owns and operates 10 fast food franchise restaurants in the Northeast will pay $1.6 million and furnish other relief to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the lawsuit, employees at one restaurant location were subjected to a hostile working environment by a male night shift manager, who touched them inappropriately, hit and groped them, and subjected them to sexually explicit derogatory comments and threats of physical harm. The employer also retaliated against at least one employee by revoking her disability-related reasonable accommodation and forcing her to quit after she complained, the EEOC charged.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their sex or to retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity, including complaining about workplace sexual harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The five-year consent decree settling the suit provides almost $1.5 million in lost wages and compensatory damages to be distributed to employees of the restaurant who were subjected to sex harassment and retaliation.

The employer in this case must now:

  • Refrain from future discrimination;
  • Provide extensive anti-discrimination and harassment training, including interactive training for the company’s managers and human resources personnel;
  • Revise the company equal employment opportunity policies and its procedures for investigating sex harassment complaints;
  • Hire an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the decree; and • Report all complaints of sex discrimination and/or retaliation to the EEOC.

The EEOC will monitor compliance with these obligations for the next five years.

Key to remember: Don’t wait until the EEOC makes you pay. Employers who put time, money, and effort into sexual harassment prevention training and other prevention efforts greatly improve their odds of avoiding costly litigation.