We have previously written that sexual harassment in the workplace does not have to be initiated by co-workers or supervisors. For instance, employees in service industries are sometimes harassed by the customers they interact with. In these cases, it is the responsibility of management and owners to step in and rectify the situation.
Recently, a South Florida restaurant franchise agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of several female employees. The lawsuit alleged that the business allowed for an atmosphere of sexual harassment by customers and also retaliated against a waitress who reported the harassment.
Several female employees at a restaurant in Royal Palm Beach alleged that they were sexually harassed by a customer, a county sheriff's deputy. The alleged harassment included inappropriate comments and unwelcomed touching.
Rather than intervening to protect its employees, the EEOC says, the company actually fired one of the women in retaliation for hiring a lawyer to help file an EEOC complaint.
The lawsuit was recently settled for $200,000. In addition to the financial provisions, the restaurant has agreed to make major improvements to its sexual harassment policies and training, as well as improvements to monitoring and reporting. The alleged harasser has been asked not to return to the restaurant.
Hopefully this settlement will serve as an important reminder to other South Florida businesses. As the EEOC's Miami regional attorney noted, "[the defendant] has a responsibility to protect their employees regardless of the status of the harasser. A high percentage of sexual harassment charges are filed by women in the restaurant industry, and this decree will serve to protect the rights of a particularly vulnerable segment of the workforce."
Source: Human Resources Journal, "Florida Restaurant Agrees to Settle Sexual Harassment Suit," Mar. 1, 2012