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PRESS RELEASE
12-14-09

Bahama Breeze to Pay $1.26 Million to Settle Suit for Racial Harassment of Black Workers

EEOC Said Restaurant Managers Repeatedly Used Racist Slurs, Including N-word

CLEVELAND – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced a class litigation settlement with national restaurant chain Bahama Breeze for $1,260,000 and significant remedial relief in a case alleging repeated racial harassment of 37 black workers at the company’s Beachwood, Ohio location.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Bahama Breeze managers committed numerous and persistent acts of racial harassment against black employees, including frequently addressing black staff with slurs such as “n….r,” “Aunt Jemima,” “homeboy,” “stupid n….r,” and “you people.” Additionally, managers allegedly imitated what they perceived to be the speech and mannerisms of black employees, and denied them breaks while allowing breaks to white employees. Despite the employees’ complaints to management, the alleged race-based harassment continued.

“No worker should ever have to endure a racially hostile work environment in order to earn a paycheck,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “It is particularly disturbing when managers engage in and condone the very unlawful conduct they are required to prevent and correct. This sizeable settlement should remind employers of the possible consequences of a failure to promote and maintain a discrimination-free workplace.”

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court (EEOC v. GMRI, Inc. d/b/a Bahama Breeze, 1:08cv2214). In addition to the $1,260,000 in monetary relief obtained for the claimants, the three-year consent decree resolving the litigation contains significant injunctive relief requiring Bahama Breeze to:

  • Maintain and update its written policies and procedures in all restaurants nationwide, prohibiting employment discrimination, including race discrimination, racial harassment and retaliation;
  • Provide anti-discrimination and diversity training to all of its Beachwood restaurant employees, including managers;
  • Comply with EEOC monitoring of the decree and periodically provide written reports regarding any discrimination complaints; and
  • Display and maintain the EEOC poster in all restaurants currently within the same operational region as the Beachwood restaurant in a place visually accessible to employees.

EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence of the Philadelphia District Office, which oversees parts of Ohio, said, “The black employees in this case, some of them long-term, suffered through egregious race-based mistreatment in order to maintain their jobs. The abusive managers are now gone and we are hopeful that victims can be treated as valued members of the restaurant work force.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.