The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
JULY 1, 2003
CONTACT: Lauren G. Dreilinger
EEOC Trial Attorney
(312) 353-7303
Noelle Brennan
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney
(312) 353-7582
John C. Hendrickson
EEOC Regional Attorney
(312) 353-8551
TTY: (312) 353-2421


EEOC Sues Rockford 'Machine Shed' For Sexual Harassment

Woman Says Harassment ‘Was Part of Job'; Heart of America Restaurant Managers Told Her Not To ‘Get Worked Up About It,' Suit Says

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court here against Heart of America Management Co., which does business locally as the Machine Shed Restaurant. The federal agency's suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 charges that the Machine Shed permitted the sexual harassment of Joetta Haas, a server at its restaurant located at 7475 East State Street (Route 20) on the commercial strip west of Interstate 90. EEOC said Haas worked at the restaurant for 15 months until she resigned in September 2001 because of the continuing sexual harassment.

Heart of America Management Co. operates numerous midwestern restaurants and hotels under the "Heart of America Restaurants & Inns" trademark and has offices on River Drive in Moline, Ill. – one of the so-called "Quad-Cities" on the Mississippi River. Heart of America also manages banquet facilities at the Illinois Wildlife Prairie State Park in Peoria. The Wildlife Prairie State Park is operated by the State of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

EEOC said that its administrative investigation which preceded the lawsuit revealed that the harassment, which was carried out by a male server and observed by other employees, involved almost daily propositions and explicit sexual remarks which were graphic and offensive in the extreme, as well as the man physically grabbing the woman. At one point, while at work at the Machine Shed and in front of other servers, the man recounted a dream he claimed to have had in which he and the server were having sex. After the server married, the man escalated his harassment, told her "I can do a better job . . . than your husband," and graphically described his sexual desires.

When Joetta Haas complained about the constant harassment, according to the EEOC investigation, management told her that she "shouldn't get worked up about it," that there was "nothing [they] could do," that she should avoid the harasser, and that the harasser claimed that she had been making sexual remarks to him. The investigation also indicated that, after Haas was forced out of her job by the harassment, the harasser was eventually discharged because her complaints were corroborated by other employees.

Ms. Haas said, "When I went to work at the Machine Shed, I didn't count on constant sexual harassment being part of the job. When it went on and on, and I complained, I really believed that management would do something about it. But nothing was done, and I was forced out of my job. I'm glad the EEOC is getting involved, and I hope there will be some real change at the restaurant and at Heart of America."

EEOC filed the lawsuit after its efforts to voluntarily conciliate the matter without litigation proved futile. The suit seeks monetary relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages, an order requiring the company to implement measures to prevent a recurrence, and a permanent injunction against future discrimination.

John C. Hendrickson, EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago, said: "Our office sees sexual harassment in all sorts of workplaces across the board – including, especially, in restaurants. Women servers seriously in need of work – and who may be living pay check to pay check – are too frequently treated as if working in a cesspool of sexual misconduct is an expected part of the job. But federal law runs flatly counter to that, and it applies just as strongly to Heart of America's operation of the Machine Shed as it does to any other employer."

The Director of the EEOC Chicago District Office, John P. Rowe, added: "Make no mistake about it. The Heart of America Management Company which runs the Machine Shed is a major operator which runs more than a dozen restaurants and 10 hotels in five states. It employs about 50 people at the Machine Shed alone, and in the neighborhood of 1,500 in all its locations. It is a business of considerable size and sophistication, and it is expected to follow the law throughout its operations – including those in Rockford – and to be prepared to respond in damages when it does not."

According to its Internet web site (, Heart of America also operates Machine Shed restaurants in Davenport and Urbandale, Iowa; Olathe, Kansas; Lake Elmo, Minnesota; and, Pewaukee and Grand Chute, Wisconsin. It operates The Captain's Table restaurant in Moline, Illinois, and Johnny's Italian Steakhouse restaurants in Moline and Peoria, Illinois and Des Moines, Iowa. Heart of America Thunder Bay Grille restaurants are located in Rockford, as well as in Davenport, Iowa and Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Two additional restaurants – Checkered Flag Bar & Grill and Gramma's Kitchen – are located in Walcott, Iowa.

The lawsuit, captioned EEOC v. Heart of America Management Co. d/b/a Illinois Machine Shed, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, today in Rockford, designated case No. 03-C-50269, and assigned to District Judge Philip G. Reinhard and Magistrate-Judge P. Michael Mahoney.

EEOC Chicago Trial Attorney Lauren Dreilinger, who will be one of the government attorneys responsible for the litigation, said: "This is an egregious situation where management received numerous complaints and did virtually nothing to stop the constant barrage of sexually explicit comments and unwanted touching. This is not only unacceptable, but is illegal."

Heart of America lodging operations, according to its web site, include Comfort Inns and Comfort Suites in the Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa areas, and in the Kansas City and Milwaukee areas. It has Radisson, Sleep Inn and Wildwood Lodge facilities in the Des Moines and Milwaukee areas, and is scheduled to open another Wildwood Lodge in Lake Elmo, Minnesota in September. The company's Johnny's Italian Steakhouse operations are promoting tours to California in October under the label "Johnny's Escape to California Wine Country."

In addition to enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation, the EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at

This page was last modified on July 3, 2003.

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