- A Georgia-based Burger King franchisee will pay $60,000 to settle sex harassment, retaliation and pregnancy discrimination claims brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency said in a Jan. 19 press release.
- According to the complaint, a former employee of North Georgia Foods alleged she was sexually harassed by a male manager and subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy. After complaining to a second manager multiple times, the employee saw her hours reduced and was ultimately removed from the employer’s work schedule (EEOC v. North Georgia Foods, Inc., No. 1:22-cv-00049 (W.D. N.C. March 7, 2022)).
- As part of the settlement, North Georgia Foods entered a two-year consent decree and will notify the alleged harasser that he is not eligible for rehire. The employer also must revisit its anti-discrimination policies and train employees on its process for reporting discrimination complaints and on the requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. An attorney representing North Georgia Foods did not respond to an HR Dive request for comment.
More than half a decade after the spread of the #MeToo movement, workers continue to experience grotesque instances of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The fast food industry is particularly rife with the issue. News of North Georgia Foods’ settlement was published less than a month after a McDonald’s franchisee paid nearly $2 million to settle claims it repeatedly allowed teenage workers to be sexually harassed and intimidated. Employees in the McDonald’s suit made similar allegations to that of the employee in the North Georgia Foods suit — namely, both settlements contained allegations that management failed to address misconduct after workers brought attention to it.
It is a reminder of the challenges employers face in proactively addressing harassment and discrimination, one of which is that workers may not feel comfortable bringing their stories to leaders or do not trust them to respond. A 2020 Workhuman survey found that 39% of employees who had been sexually harassed at work did not trust their HR departments. Only 47% of previously harassed women in the survey reported their harassment, compared to 66% of men who had been harassed.
“The outcome of this case demonstrates that employers who ignore complaints of sex-based harassment in the workplace or retaliate against employees for asserting their rights under Title VII will be held accountable,” Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney at EEOC, said in a statement.
Last year, federal lawmakers sought to chip away at legal constructs that may have deterred victims by enacting the Speak Out Act, which renders unenforceable workplace predispute nondisclosure and nondisparagement clauses involving sexual harassment and sexual assault.
But employers’ existing policies may overlook the workplace power dynamics that enable abuse, sources previously told HR Dive. In addition to improving those policies, HR departments could more effectively train managers and set cultural expectations so as to proactively address harassment. That process might include bystander training for all members of an organization.