Restaurant's Co-Owner Subjected Employee to Sexual Comments and Touching, Then Punished and Fired Her for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
LEXINGTON, N.C. - A Lexington, N.C., restaurant has agreed to pay $25,000 and provide substantial additional relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC alleged that one of the restaurant's co-owners, who was also her supervisor, subjected Laura Jones (now Laura Thompson), a waitress, to a sexually hostile work environment from around June until October 2010. The suit charged that the harassment included, among other things, comments about Thompson's appearance; rubbing up against her while she was at work; telling her to get rid of her boyfriend if she wanted to advance at work; and grabbing her. Thompson complained about the harassment to the head waitress and other owners of the restaurant.
According to the EEOC, the company reduced Thompson's hours after she began reporting the harassment. In late October 2010, the sexual advances and comments toward Thompson had ceased, but by the end of December 2010, Thompson was working the fewest hours among other servers at the restaurant. The suit also alleged that on Feb. 14, 2011, Thompson complained about the reduction of her hours for the final time, and the company fired her in retaliation for her complaints.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and retaliation for complaining about discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Silver Diner, Inc.; Civil Action No. 1:12-CV-01002) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief to Thompson and agreeing to provide references to her potential employers, the company entered into a five-year consent decree requiring Silver Diner to conduct annual training which covers sexual harassment and retaliation for all its employees, supervisors and managers. The company will also adopt a new anti-harassment policy and will make it available to all of its employees. Finally, Silver Diner will report all sexual harassment and retaliation complaints to the EEOC throughout the decree's term.
"Sexual harassment by a company's owner is especially harmful," said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "The EEOC's filing this case is a reminder that employers have an obligation under federal law to ensure a work environment free from harassment, to promptly investigate complaints and to take appropriate corrective measures to stop sexual harassment, regardless of who the harasser is."
Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District, added, "The EEOC is pleased that the consent decree includes injunctive measures designed to ensure that this kind of harassment does not happen in the future."
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.