Whopper of a Settlement: Burger King Franchisee Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $2.5 Million
Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor
A recent settlement against the largest Burger King franchisee may leave employers with a bad taste in their mouths and encourage them to be more proactive when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. Carrols Corporation (Carrols) agreed to pay $2.5 million to a class of 89 women to settle a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the women were subjected to egregious sexual harassment and retaliation by managers when they worked at Burger King restaurants in the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. The settlement resolves one of the most extensive EEOC cases in recent history, spanning 14 years.
Specifically, the EEOC alleged that the managers subjected the women, many of them teenagers, to egregious acts of harassment from obscene comments, jokes and propositions to unwanted touching, exposure of genitalia, strip searches, stalking and even rape. The EEOC further alleged that Carrols retaliated against the women by reducing their hours, disciplining them or terminating them. Some of the women quit because the working conditions were so intolerable due to the harassment. The company believed that it was in its best interest to settle this case rather than endure a trial of 89 claims of current and former employees.
As part of the settlement, Carrols agreed to increase employee awareness of the company's antiharassment policies and to post a notice in all US Carrols Burger King locations regarding the lawsuit and the settlement and informing employees of their rights under federal discrimination and harassment laws. It also agreed to provide enhanced training for managers in preventing and responding to harassment complaints and to improve its procedures for tracking and responding to harassment complaints. See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Carrols Restaurant, US District Court for the Northern District of New York, Civil Action No. 98-cv-01772 FWS/TWD.
Where's the Beef?
This case reinforces the notion that it is critical for employers to not only develop policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation, but also to enforce those policies, including taking affirmative steps to prevent harassment or discrimination. Employers should be proactive and make sure that all employees, supervisors and managers receive adequate training so that they know how to identify, report and remedy harassment. Employers must also make sure that employees are not retaliated against for complaining about harassment and discrimination. Further, when faced with claims of harassment, the employer should respond immediately with an extensive investigation, including implementation of any discipline, interim or remedial measures, as well as affirmative steps to end the harassment.