With the #metoo movement continuing to make headlines, all US companies should be looking for ways to address (and prevent) sexual harassment in their workplace. However, if the continuing media coverage of the “sexual harassment problem” has not convinced you, two recently EEOC settlements give employers $890,000 reasons to take immediate action.
On January 8, 2018, the EEOC issued a press release announcing that this case (a 15-plaintiff case) had settled for $340,000. According to the EEOC, managers of four of this restaurant chain’s locations subjected the plaintiffs (many of whom were minors at the time they worked for the restaurant) to “long-standing sexual harassment, including requests for sexual favors, sexually offensive comments and unwanted sexual touching.”
In addition to paying this settlement, the company must also take the following measures:
- Provide letters of apology to the women,
- Implement new policies,
- Conduct extensive training for employees and management,
- Post an anti-discrimination notice at all workplaces, and
- Report compliance to the EEOC for a five-year period.
On the same day, the EEOC issued a second a press release announcing that this case (a class action case) had settled for $550,000. According to the EEOC, female employees were subjected to a pattern and practice of sexual harassment (including sexual assault) between 2006 and 2012. The harassment included the following type of behavior:
- Sexual assault
o A male manager grabbing and pinching the breasts and crotch of a female correctional officer, and
o A male employee forcing a female employee onto a desk, shoving her legs apart, and kissing her.
- Verbal harassment
o Male officers asking female officers for sex,
o A male officer calling a female officer “bitch” and “f—ing bitch” daily,
o Supervisors and officers making sexually explicit comments (including “All I want to see of you is the top of your head bobbing up and down while you are on your knees”) to female officers.
o A supervisor frequently saying that women should be barefoot and pregnant.
o A male employee making gestures while talking dirty, and
o Officers using profanity
- Unwanted physical contact
The female employees also faced retaliation (e.g. discipline, forced resignation, termination, or placement in unsafe conditions in the prison) when they complained about the harassment.
In addition, to paying this settlement, the company must also take the following measures:
- Send letters of regret to the women and provide employment references for them.
- Review its equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies,
- Ensure that all complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation are immediately and thoroughly investigated by a neutral employee,
- Ensure that the complainant is informed of the results of the investigation
- Designate certain alleged harassers as ineligible for rehire,
- Post notices of the consent decree in its Florence facilities,
- Conduct anti-discrimination training, and
- Include EEO compliance when evaluating its managers.
Take Home For Employers
These recent settlements send two very important messages to employers.
Most importantly, employers should know that they cannot “stick their heads in the sand” when in receipt of a sexual harassment complaint (or when they have knowledge of potential sexual harassment – regardless of whether a complaint has been made). Instead, employers must conduct investigations into these situations and take steps to address sexual harassment. To ignore sexual harassment in the workplace will prove expensive to employers.
Also, these cases show that the EEOC (and state agencies) take this type of claim very seriously and will aggressively pursue charges of sexual harassment.