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EEOC lawsuit spotlights problem of sexual harassment in restaurants

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced last month that it had filed a lawsuit against an Arby’s franchisee because of sexual harassment teenage employees had experienced. The Arby’s franchise at issue hired a team leader with a known history of sexual harassment who pressured young female employees to have sex with him, attempted to follow female employees home, and physically injured one of his victims. The EEOC alleges that management knew about the harassment but took no action to stop it for several months.

Unfortunately, the facts of this case are very common. According to a study by the EEOC, young workers are more likely than older workers to work in places where sexual harassment occurs. Sexual harassers often victimize young employees because, due to their lack of work and life experience, young employees are less likely to know their rights, they are less likely to understand typical workplace norms, and they are less likely to complain about older and more powerful people.  The EEOC has a helpful website for young workers that can assist them if they believe their rights are being violated.

The restaurant industry is also a hot zone for sexual harassment. Some of the lowest paid workers in the economy work in restaurants. Harassers know that these low paid workers are especially scared of retaliation if they complain about harassment. Low paid workers often do not have much money saved and if they lose their jobs, they can quickly become destitute. Many restaurants frequently have corporate management located in places far removed from the front line employees and this can lead to harassers feeling less afraid that they will get in trouble.  Alcohol consumption is also more common in the restaurant industry than other industries and that can lead to higher rates of sexual harassment.

If you work at a restaurant and you are experiencing sexual harassment, you likely are not alone and you are likely not the harasser’s first victim. There are a variety of strategies that you can use to try to get your employer to stop the harassment. Every situation is different and no strategy will work in every case. One strategy that often works is for employees to band together and jointly pressure management to take action against the harasser. Both victims and bystanders who find the harassment offensive can band together to do this. The group will have strength in numbers because an employer is less likely to retaliate against a group of employees than it is to retaliate against a single employee.

One thing you can and should always do if you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace is to contact an experienced employment lawyer. An experienced employment lawyer can advise you of your rights and help you develop a strategy for dealing with the harassment that fits the needs of your situation.