Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Two Colorado employers recently settled lawsuits alleging harassment of teen workers, serving as a reminder to employers to take harassment claims seriously and to take preventative measures to avoid legal violations.

The McDonald's Case.

In the first case, a Durango, Colo.-based McDonald’s restaurant franchise will pay $505,000 and provide significant remedial relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that a class of females, many of whom were 15 to 17 years old, were subjected to egregious sexual harassment in the workplace by their male supervisor. The harassment allegedly included unwanted physical touching, numerous sexual comments, as well as offers of favors in exchange for sex. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the terms of the consent decree resolving the case, the defendants will pay the two named victims and their attorney, Lynne Sholler, of Durango a total of $450,000 for compensatory damages and attorney fees. An additional $55,000 will be distributed to two other class members represented by the EEOC. The decree also provides for significant non-monetary relief, including letters of apology to the victims; training on sex discrimination in the defendants’ Colorado and New Mexico facilities; posting notices of non-discrimination in all of the defendants’ workplaces; and an injunction prohibiting discrimination and retaliation.

The Dillard's Case.

In a separate case, the EEOC settled its class sexual harassment lawsuit against the Dillard’s depart­ment store chain for $500,000 and substantial remedial relief on behalf of a class of 12 female former employees who were sexually harassed by an assistant store manager in two states. The EEOC maintained in its suit that assistant store manager Scot McGinness sexually harassed women at two Dillard’s stores. The EEOC said that Dillard’s knew that McGinness was sexually harassing young female subordinates at the Palmdale, Calif., store, but failed to take appropriate action to stop the misconduct. Instead, Dillard’s transferred him to a managerial position in its Westminster, Colo., store, and failed to notify the new store about McGinness’s history of sexual harassment. Moreover, after a Colorado female associate complained to her store manager that McGinness inappropriately touched her, McGinness was given only a verbal warning regarding his conduct. Only 10 months later, when McGinness physically and verbally sexually harassed an 18-year-old high school senior and the Westminster police were contacted, did Dillard’s finally fire McGinness.

Guidance for Employers:

1. Make sure anti-harassment policies are up to date.

2. Implement anti-harassment training for managers and workers on a regular basis.

3. Simply transferring problem employees may not be a good idea. Take immediate action to stop harassment, including adequate discipline - up to termination.

4. Make sure complaint procedures are effective for teen-aged workers. A recent ruling by a federal court found that an employer's harassment complaint procedure was ineffective because it was not written in a way that could be easily understood by the teenage workers who comprised the bulk of the employer's workforce. There, the court allowed a 16-year-old restaurant worker's claims of sexual harassment and retaliation to proceed to trial, despite the employer's claims that it had made a good faith effort to follow the law. In light of its large teenage workforce, the court found that the employer was obligated to create a complaint procedure that would be understood by the "average teenager."

Guidance for Teen Workers

The EEOC has launched a national Youth@Work Initiative -- a comprehensive outreach and education campaign designed to inform teens about their employment rights and responsibilities and to help employers create positive first work experiences for young adults. The EEOC has held more than 3,400 Youth@Work events nationwide since the program was launched, reaching more than 212,000 students, education professionals, and employers.

Further information about the Youth@Work campaign, including how to schedule a free Youth@Work outreach presentation, is available on the agency’s web site at

Specific EEOC-related information for teens is available on the Youth@Work web site at