Sexual Harassment Settlement Demonstrates Strengths of EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the owner of 25 Wisconsin McDonald's restaurants announced that the parties settled a sexual harassment class action lawsuit for $1 million dollars. (EEOC press release)  The allegations in this case involve rampant sexual harassment over many years - male employees subjecting female co-workers to sexual comments, kissing, and inappropriate touching.  Also at issue was the company's failure and refusal to take prompt and appropriate action to correct the harassment.  According to the EEOC, the sexually hostile environment forced at least one employee to quit and the company fired other harassed employees after they complained about the sexual harassment 

Sexual harassment class action lawsuits are somewhat unique because often sexual harassment is individualized and there is not a common and unifying experience shared by enough employees to make a class action the appropriate legal remedy.  In this case, however, the sexual harassment was pervasive in the workplace culture and was directed at many female employees over the course of a number of years.  The benefits of bringing a sexual harassment class action with the EEOC are shown in the settlement terms of this case.  Not only will compensatory damages be paid to the sexually harassed employees, but under the four-year consent decree, the company will also: create an ombudsperson position responsible for monitoring, soliciting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation; establish hotlines for employees to report sexual harassment or retaliation; evaluate its managers’ and supervisors’ performance based in part on whether their restaurants comply with anti-harassment and anti-retaliation laws and policies; track and maintain records of all sexual harassment and retaliation complaints; implement a comprehensive training program to enable its employees to identify sexual harassment and properly investigate internal complaints; post notices at all its restaurants informing employees that it has settled a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit with the EEOC and publicizing some settlement terms; and provide periodic reports to the EEOC showing it is complying with the terms of the decree.  These non-monetary terms are an impressive result from the EEOC and exemplify the kinds of injunctive relief that is often very difficult to achieve through a private lawsuit or settlement agreement.  

The case is also a reminder that sexual harassment continues to be an ongoing problem.  The conduct alleged in this case is unfortunately not unique, especially in the restaurant industry. The attorneys at Baillon Thome are experienced sexual harassment lawyers. Contact our team if you have questions about how to deal with a sexually hostile work environment, have been fired for reporting sexual harassment or have experienced retaliation because you refused to be subjected to harassing behavior.