National Restaurant Franchise Applebee’s will pay $100,000 and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit for sex-based harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. The announcement comes after an Applebee’s employee was harassed and then fired for reporting allegations.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, restaurant staff verbally harassed the employee, a transgender woman, by making crude and derogatory references to her transgender status and repeatedly and intentionally referring to her with a male name and male pronouns. Although the employee reported the sexual harassment to management on several occasions, the companies failed to stop the harassment and instead fired her in retaliation for her complaints.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination (including harassment) based on sex, as well as retaliation for complaining about it. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (EEOC v. Apple-Metro, Inc. and Hawthorne Apple, LLC, Civil Action No. 1:17-CV-04333), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“It is far better for all involved when employers take reports of harassment seriously and address problematic conduct before it becomes a lawsuit,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “Retaliating against the employee who reported the problem is illegal, and the EEOC takes such violations quite seriously.”
Kirsten Peters, an EEOC trial attorney, added, “Sex-based harassment – against anyone – is unlawful, and so is retaliation for complaining about it. An employer is only making a bad situation worse when it punishes someone for standing up for her rights.”
Under the consent decree resolving the lawsuit, the company will pay $100,000 in lost wages and damages to the discrimination victim. It also requires Apple Metro, Inc. and Hawthorne Apple, LLC to revise and redistribute their anti-harassment policies and provide training to all employees at the Hawthorne restaurant and to individuals at Apple-Metro, Inc. who manage the company’s other restaurants, which are located in New York City and Westchester and Rockland Counties. Additionally, any complaints of sex-based discrimination or retaliation made by employees of the Hawthorne Applebee’s will be reported to the EEOC.
Kevin Berry, director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said, “All employees are entitled to the opportunity to earn a living in a workplace free from unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”
Apple-Metro, Inc. operates approximately 34 restaurants in the New York metro area, including in Westchester and Rockland Counties and New York City.
The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The New York District Office located in Manhattan conducted the investigation resulting in this lawsuit.
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