UPDATE: July 19, 2022: The Applebee's franchisee will pay $100,000 and provide comprehensive injunctive relief to settle the EEOC’s charges, the agency announced July 11. The three-year consent decree requires the franchisee to train its HR and management staff on sexual orientation and racial discrimination and to appoint an internal monitor to review harassment complaints.
- A Florida Applebee's retaliated against a Black line cook who complained about being mistreated because of his sexuality and race, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in an Aug. 12 release announcing a lawsuit against the restaurant. Applebee's actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, EEOC said.
- The cook's co-workers frequently used racial and homophobic slurs, the agency alleged. They also wore clothing displaying the Confederate flag.
- The line cook flagged the treatment, but the restaurant instructed him to "ignore it," EEOC said. Applebee's also slashed his hours, and he was forced to quit his job.
The agency's allegations offer employers several reminders about discrimination in the workplace.
First, it signals that EEOC is taking the U.S. Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County seriously — which should come as no surprise to employers. In Bostock, the High Court decided that Title VII includes protections for workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. EEOC didn't wait on the Supreme Court justices to take a stance on the matter, however; in 2017, for example, it recommended an appellate court hold that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation-based discrimination. (The Trump administration, meanwhile, recommended the opposite.)
The Bostock decision has been in effect for more than a year now, and LGBTQ anti-discrimination efforts have become a priority for the EEOC. "While the EEOC recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Bostock decision, this case demonstrates that the work is not over," EEOC Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg said in the Applebee's release. "The EEOC will aggressively investigate, and, if necessary, prosecute employers that violate the rights of their LGBTQ employees."
The lawsuit also reminds employers that retaliation claims often accompany allegations of discrimination. "When an employer learns about discrimination in the workplace, it must take prompt action designed to stop the behavior," EEOC Tampa Field Office Director Evangeline Hawthorne said in the release. "All too often, however, we see employers making a bad situation worse by retaliating against the victim rather than taking steps to stop the harassment. The EEOC will hold employers accountable for their actions."