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PRESS RELEASE
6-15-10

Two Sonic Franchises Sued By EEOC For Sexual Harassment To Pay $55,000

Teenaged Female Carhops Were Routinely Abused by Male Managers, Federal Agency Charged

HOUSTON – Two Sonic Drive-In franchises in  the Kingwood-Humble area with common ownership and management will pay $55,000  to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that S.D.I. of Kingwood,  doing business as the Kingwood Sonic Drive-In, and S.D.I. of Lee Rd., doing business as the Lee Road  Sonic Drive-In, violated federal law by routinely subjecting teenaged female  employees to abuse by a manager and others, including threatening one young  worker with a knife.

The EEOC’s suit said that the  franchises’ primary owner promoted a young, unqualified family member to  consecutively higher management positions within the restaurants and allowed  him to use his position of power to sexually harass the teens starting in  2006. The EEOC also contended that this  manager permitted and encouraged other male employees and managers to join in  the harassing conduct.

According to the EEOC, Aracely De  Leon, a 16-year-old employee, was forced to quit due to harassment by the  manager, and another young employee, Elizabeth Maxwell, then age 17, was also  subjected to sexually harassing conduct by the manager. The EEOC claimed that, after she rejected his  advances, the manager became abusive to Maxwell, even threatening her with a  knife in the restaurant’s kitchen.  Maxwell was subsequently fired from her job for opposing the illegal  conduct, according to the EEOC. The  agency also charged that other teenaged female employees were subjected to or  witnessed sexual harassment within the workplace.

Sex discrimination, including  sexual harassment, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:08-cv-02874  in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division)  after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

The settlement terms of the lawsuit,  set forth in a consent decree signed and entered by U.S. District Judge Vanessa  D. Gilmore on June 8, 2010, require the defendants to pay $55,000 in relief to  compensate Maxwell, De Leon  and other class members for the sexual harassment and retaliation. The decree also contains provisions to ensure  that the owner, managers and employees of the two franchises are properly  trained to fully comply with employment discrimination laws. In addition, the two defendants are required  to develop and implement new policies and procedures for addressing illegal  discrimination in the workplace, as well as guidelines for investigating  complaints of discrimination. These  policies and guidelines must be approved by the EEOC prior to implementation.

“This lawsuit was filed in order to  protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable and impressionable workers –  teenagers who, often, are newcomers to the workplace,” said Jim Sacher, the  EEOC’s regional attorney. “The unchecked  actions of the young manager in this case clearly put young women at risk. This settlement is an important step in  ensuring that such workers are able to enter the workplace for the first time  without fear of harassment or retaliation.”

Anyone  who believes he or she has been subjected to a discriminatory employment  practice is encouraged to contact the EEOC’s Houston District Office, which is  located in downtown Houston on the seventh floor  of the Mickey Leland Federal  Building at 1919 Smith Street.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws  against employment discrimination.  Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.