Restaurant Served with Sexual Harassment suits
The food service industry has recently been hit hard with a barrage of sexual harassment lawsuits.
A jury awarded 4.9 million dollars to an employee of Brinker International (the company that owns Chili´s Restaurant) who said she was sexually harassed by a manager and then faced retaliation when she complained. With all the media attention on the subject lately, the number of sexual harassment cases filed each year against restaurants and their owners are escalating at an all too rapid pace. Restaurant owners must now take a pro-active stance to keep such complaints from damaging their operation. All employees, male and female, need to know what types of conduct are unlawful. Assuming that your managers and employees know how to behave without explicit guidelines could be your ticket to the courthouse. A series of recent Supreme Court decisions have defined what “sexual harassment” means.
Those cases, and the interpretive guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC), define two distinct types of sexual harassment. The more obvious is “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, which occurs when a beneficial condition of employment is premised upon an employee’s submission to sexual advances. Frequently, that claim is also raised when an employee rejects a sexual advance, and claims a connection between that rejection and a subsequent adverse job action. That action may be a denial of a raise or promotion, a termination, or a “constructive discharge” where an employee claims that the retaliation made his or her job conditions intolerable. Far more pervasive and more evident in the courts is harassment based on a “hostile work environment.” According to the case law and the EEOC´s interpretive regulations, a “hostile environment” is one that is so pervasive that it materially alters the terms and conditions of employment.
Most employers don’t realize that their obligations with regard to sexual harassment arise before any act of harassment occurs, such as the posting of sexual harassment free workplace. Additionally, many lawyers, including the writer of this article, strongly urge their employer clients to disseminate a clear and explicit sexual harassment prohibition policy and reporting procedure. This policy is critical because under federal case law, an employer fulfills its obligation if it takes all reasonable steps to prevent harassment before it occurs and takes effective steps to remedy harassment after it takes place. If these general principles are consistently and carefully applied, the employer can go a long way towards avoiding liability for sexual harassment.