Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheesecake Factory Settles EEOC Lawsuit for $345,000

The Cheesecake Factory Inc. will pay $345,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit stemming from actions at the restaurant chain’s location in Chandler, Ariz. The suit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which alleged that six male employees were subjected to repeated sexual harassment at the company’s Chandler Mall location. The suit also charged that Cheesecake Factory knew about and tolerated repeated sexual assaults against the employees by a group of male kitchen staffers. According to the EEOC, the evidence showed the alleged abusers directly touched victims’ genitals, made sexually charged remarks and forced victims into repeated episodes of simulated rape. The EEOC also alleged that complaints to virtually every manager at the restaurant were made, but they never put a stop to it. In addition to the monetary relief for the six victims, the parties agreed upon a two year consent decree that calls for the company to specifically train its employees and managers about sexual harassment and institute an ombudsman to field and address sexual harassment complaints by employees.

This case highlights the importance of putting into place, and regularly training employees with regard to, anti-harassment policies and procedures. Many employers fail to conduct diversity and harassment training seminars for their employees and management. Many others merely note during new employee orientations that they have policies in place to address harassment. The best (i.e., safest) approach is to conduct regular trainings for employees and management that make clear the employer's anti-harassment policies and procedures.