New York City Restaurant Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed by EEOC

Sexual harassment remains a problem in workplaces throughout the country and the world. As New York City sexual harassment attorneys, we have seen how it can affect every kind of workplace in the city. People with supervisory or managerial authority may decide to abuse their power against workers who may fear standing up for their rights. Many complaints of sexual harassment appear in the restaurant industry, where supervisors have authority over employee schedules, and employees often compete with each other for shifts and tips. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against a company that operates a chain of restaurants in the city.

Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and certain other factors. Under a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts, sexual harassment violates Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions in two situations:

  1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee is expected to submit to sexual demands in some form as a condition of getting a job, keeping a job, or obtaining favorable employment conditions. In the restaurant industry, a supervisor with authority over shift schedules who demands sexual favors in exchange for the best assignments has committed quid pro quo sexual harassment.
  2.  A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with a person’s ability to do their job, and any reasonable person would find the situation to be objectively “hostile.” A restaurant that routinely tolerates sexual banter, especially if this occurs over the objections of some employees, could be considered a hostile work environment.

The EEOC filed suit in May 2019 against several companies that operate a chain of restaurants in New York City. The complaint, filed on behalf of a former manager at one of the restaurants, alleged multiple acts of harassment by at least two upper-level managers. This conduct, the complaint alleged, occurred at all of the restaurant locations, as well as during and after the charging party and other employees lodged complaints about the behavior.

Acts allegedly perpetrated by one manager included:

  • “Kissing female employees on the cheeks near their lips”;
  • “Touching female employees’ breasts, backsides, arms, and lower backs”; and
  • “Asking employees about, or commenting on, their sex lives or sexual preferences.”

When employees objected to this manager’s conduct, the complaint claimed that “he usually responded by laughing and continuing to harass them.” At least one other manager also allegedly engaged in conduct that, according to the EEOC, contributed to the hostile work environment.

The parties filed a proposed consent decree with the court in June 2020. The court accepted it and entered it as an order. The defendant agreed to pay $32,000 to the charging party “and a class of aggrieved female employees.” It also agreed to various actions that it must undertake once it resumes in-person dining, which is currently suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions include posting a “Notice of Lawsuit and Resolution” in locations where employees can see it, creating a “revised anti-discrimination policy” that provides “multiple avenues for employees to make complaints,” and providing employees with a copy of the policy.

Phillips & Associates’ experienced and knowledgeable employment attorneys represent New York City workers in sexual harassment claims. Please contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.

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