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Applebee’s Grill and Bar: Serving Up Sexual Harassment with Those Fries and Cocktails

$75,000 plus years of monitoring by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the federal watch dog for employment discrimination, was the price tag for an Applebee’s Grill and Bar that allowed sexual harassment to go unchecked in South Carolina. 

The EEOC alleged an assistant manager of a North Myrtle Beach location, owned and operated by franchisee  New Apple, Inc., sexually harassed two servers.  Specifically, the manager made sexual comments and groped the servers.  According to the EEOC’s complaint, much of the offensive conduct was witnessed by members of management and the servers reported the harassment to multiple managers on several occasions.  Despite all this, the company took no action.

To resolve the lawsuit, the company agreed to pay $75,000 and entered into a two-year consent decree.  Under the terms of the consent decree, the company is required to conduct sexual harassment training at all of its locations, not just the restaurant involved.  Additionally, the company must report to the EEOC all complaints of sex-based conduct or comments made by employees.

In light of the #MeToo movement sweeping the nation, this case serves as a cautionary tale for employers.  First, when an employer receives a complaint of alleged harassment, they have a legal obligation to conduct a prompt investigation and take appropriate corrective measures. Here, it appears the company did no investigation and took no action to prevent continued harassment.  Second, this case serves as a reminder that failing to take sexual harassment allegations seriously can lead to the company having an ongoing relationship with the EEOC.  In this instance, the company is obligated for the next two years to inform the EEOC of any sex based complaints!  This likely sends shivers up the spine of most human resources professionals.

As every employer knows, the #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment claims into the national dialogue.  Companies must take these allegations seriously because failure to do so is not only morally wrong, bad for productivity, illegal, and a public relations nightmare.  It can also make your company “besties” with the EEOC – something no company wants.  If your company receives a sexual harassment complaint, you should contact competent labor and employment counsel to discuss next steps and nip the issue in the bud before it explodes!

Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on maintaining a harassment free environment and on employment law issues in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.