Sparks Steak House of New York City will pay $600,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The case is interesting because it highlights the growing prevalence of cases involving male-on-male sexual harassment.
The lawsuit alleged that male waiters were subjected to harassment based on their sex, committed primarily by one male manager. The misconduct included the manager groping the buttocks of the male waiters, making lewd sexual comments and attempting to touch their private areas. The EEOC also alleged that the harassment continued even after some of the waiters complained to managers and even resulted in retaliation, which included waiters being given more difficult work assignments and/or ultimately being suspended.
In addition to paying monetary damages, the steakhouse must also take steps to deter further harassment. The settlement requires the restaurant to 1) establish a complaint hotline for reporting incidents of discrimination; 2) distribute an amended policy prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation to all employees; 3) conduct anti-discrimination training for employees; 4) post a public notice about the settlement; and 5) report all sexual harassment and/or retaliation complaints to the EEOC.
According to the EEOC, this is not an isolated case. In fact, the agency reports that the percentage of sexual harassment complaints filed by men is on the rise. The EEOC notes that it has also recently filed charges against a Washington farm and a New Mexico car dealership for male-on-male sexual harassment.
These cases should remind employers that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment committed by and against all genders. The law should be clear in all discrimination policies and procedures and managers should be trained to take all claims of harassment seriously, no matter the gender of the employee reporting it. As highlighted here, the failure to do so could result in a costly lawsuit.
If you have any questions about the EEOC lawsuit or other compliance issues related to workplace discrimination policies, please contact me, Christina Michelson, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work.