Burger King Franchisee Settles Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit for $2.5 Million

January 18, 2013 - Comments Off

Carrols Corp., the world’s largest Burger King franchisee, has settled a class sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by 89 female employees across the United States for $2.5 million.  The lawsuit, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on behalf of the employees, charged that Carrols subjected the class of women – many of whom were teenagers when they worked for Carrols – to egregious sexual harassment at Burger King locations across the country.  The alleged sexual harassment ranged from unwelcome sexualized comments and jokes to exposure of genitalia, strip searches, stalking, and even rape.  When employees reported the conduct, managers retaliated against them by cutting their hours, manufacturing bases to discipline them, and in some cases even terminating them.  Those that were not terminated by the company often felt little choice but to quit due to the intolerable conditions.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] . . . terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.”  In the case of Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), the United States Supreme Court held that discrimination on the basis of sex included sexual harassment, and defined sexual harassment as “[u]nwelcome sexual advances … and other … conduct of a sexual nature” having the “purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”  There is little question that the type of conduct alleged by the EEOC far surpassed the threshold set forth in Meritor.

Carrols operates in 13 states and franchises 576 Burger King restaurants, employing over 17,000 people.  As Debra S. Katz, a sexual harassment expert at the D.C.-based law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, stated, “This sort of systemic misconduct by managers would be reprehensible in any company, but a company of this size should have already had policies in place to prevent this sort of behavior.  Unfortunately young workers are especially vulnerable to this type of invidious discrimination and abuse.”  In addition to the monetary settlement, Carrols has been ordered to put a number of measures in place to prevent this behavior from happening again.  According to the EEOC’s press release on the settlement, those measures include enhanced training for Carrols’ managers in preventing and responding to harassment; improved mechanisms for tracking harassment complaints; notices posted in all domestic Carrols Burger King locations informing employees about the lawsuit’s resolution and their rights under federal anti-discrimination laws; and an injunction prohibiting further harassment and retaliation.

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