New York Restaurant Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed by EEOC

Sexual harassment often involves someone who takes advantage of their power over another person in the workplace, placing that person in a situation where they fear that speaking out would put their job at risk. New York City sexual harassment attorneys help people who feel like they cannot do anything about unwelcome sexual remarks, jokes, or overtures at work. Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. That said, it often seems particularly common in certain types of businesses, particularly those with low wages and high rates of employee turnover. The restaurant industry has many accounts of managers who engage in all manner of objectionable activities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against a New York restaurant that involved such allegations.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and several other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Sexual harassment is included in Title VII’s definition of sex discrimination, according to numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions starting with Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). Unlawful sexual harassment under Title VII can take several forms, including unwelcome conduct in the workplace of a sexual nature that is pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would consider it to be a hostile work environment.

Congress created the EEOC to investigate alleged violations of Title VII and other federal employment statutes. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-42000e-5. A worker with a complaint against an employer must file a charge with the EEOC before they may file a lawsuit in federal court. The EEOC will investigate the charge, and then decide whether it will pursue a civil action on the worker’s behalf. If not, it will issue a “right to sue” letter, which allows the worker to take their case to court.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit mentioned above in May 2019. The defendant operated a restaurant in Amherst, New York. Multiple female employees alleged that the restaurant’s “owner, president, and general manager” engaged in repeated acts of sexual harassment, and that these acts created a hostile work environment. Alleged acts included “grabbing female employees’ buttocks,” “telling female employees to dress ‘sexier’ for work,” and making overt sexual propositions to female employees.

Multiple employees alleged that they were fired for objecting to the manager’s behavior. Others alleged that they felt they had no choice but to quit because of the ongoing harassment. This is known as “constructive discharge.” The EEOC’s complaint asserted a cause of action for sexual harassment under Title VII.

The EEOC and the defendant reached a settlement and signed a consent decree in the fall of 2020. The court approved the consent decree in December, but filed it under seal. According to an EEOC press release, the defendant agreed to pay $90,000 in damages to the aggrieved employees and former employees. The manager also agreed not to manage a restaurant or supervise employees for at least three years.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for New York City workers’ rights in claims for sexual harassment under city, state, and federal law. Please contact us today online or at (866) 229-9441 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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