by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology
The case is EEOC v. 441 S.B. LLC & Hurricane Grill and Wings, reported on the EEOC website on 2/27/12 (see http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/2-27-12.cfm). Class action harassment lawsuits are of interest in themselves. What makes this case particularly interesting is that the perpetrator was a customer. In fact, it was a single customer who harassed a group of female servers. To add fuel to the fire, one of the female servers was fired after it was learned that she hired an attorney to assist her in filling an EEOC claim. The alleged behavior of the customer was outrageous, or in the words of the EEOC, a “flagrant violation.” The EEOC alleged that the servers were groped in the breasts and buttocks, that the customer humiliated the severs by sexual innuendos, that he made direct invitations to the servers to join he and his wife in ménage a trois.
Also of interest, is that while the case was pending, the company owners (441 S.B. LLC) sold its interest to another group (Hurricane Wings Management). The new group agreed to be a party in the suit for compliance future relief, most notably anti-harassment training. However, the monetary settlement ($200,000) is the responsibility of the original company. The new company agreed to ensure that its restaurant would be a place free of harassment and retaliation, and it agreed to monitoring and reporting to the EEOC. And the Customer? As agreed to with the EEOC, he was given a written request to stay away from the facility.
The moral of the story is that employers are responsible for policies that prevent and quickly correct sexual harassment in the workplace. Usually, such policies are applied to the actions of supervisors and co-workers. The circumstances in the present case are often called “third party” harassment. The moral of the story is that such third party actions can occur in any business that deals with customers (i.e., a lot of them). Therefore, employers should ensure that they are monitoring the actions of customers, as well as supervisors and co-workers.
March 12, 2012