Press Release 03-30-2020

EEOC Sues Smashburger for Race Harassment

General Manager Harassed Black Employee, Constantly Referring to Him by Racist Insults, Federal Agency Charges

NEW YORK - Smashburger, a nation-wide chain of fast food restaurants, violated federal law by subjecting a black employee to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC's complaint, Smashburger subjected a black employee at one of its Long Island restaurants to a race-based hostile work environment when the restaurant's general manager made constant racist and demeaning comments. She frequently made racist comments about him to his fiancée who also worked at the restaurant, suggesting that she should break up with him because he is black. The harassment was reported on multiple occasions to management, but Smashburger waited nearly a year before conducting a serious investigation, and then only took remedial action after the employee filed a charge with the EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, which includes subjecting employees to a racially hostile work environment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Icon Burger Acquisition, LLC d/b/a Smashburger, Civil Action No. 2:20-cv-01601) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency's litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorney Sebastian Riccardi, supervised by Supervisory Trial Attorney Nora Curtin.

"Employees have a right to work in an environment free of racial harassment," said EEOC New York Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein. "Racial harassment is against the law, and when employers learn about it, they have an obligation not just to act, but to act promptly and effectively."

"The law is clear that employers have a responsibility to ensure their workplaces are free from unlawful harassment, which includes making sure that all levels of management know how to promptly and appropriately address problematic conduct when it is reported," added EEOC's New York District Acting Director Judy Keenan.

The New York District Office of the EEOC is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in New York, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.