Monday, January 9, 2023

A supersized harassment settlement highlights the extra care employers must take when employing minors

How bad must sexual harassment be for an employer to settle a harassment case for $2 million? This bad.

AMTCR—the owner of 18 McDonald's franchises across California, Nevada, and Arizona—will pay $1,997,500 to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

According to the agency, the employer permitted its managers, supervisor, and other employees to sexually harass their underage employees for years.

According to the lawsuit, since at least 2017, AMTCR knew about sexual harassment and allowed it to continue, unabated, by supervisors, managers, and coworkers at various of its McDonald's restaurants. The harassing conduct, which was mainly directed at young, teenage employees, included frequent unwanted touching, offensive comments, unwelcome sexual advances, and intimidation. As AMTCR failed to adequately address the complaints of sexual harassment, many workers found the working conditions so intolerable that they had no choice but to quit.… 

In addition to the monetary relief, AMTCR has agreed to provide significant, franchise-wide injunctive relief aimed at preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. AMTCR has agreed to retain an outside third-party EEO monitor who will conduct internal audits of AMTCR’s practices in handling harassment and retaliation complaints; establish a centralized tracking system for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation complaints; and ensure accountability and appropriate disciplinary action occur. AMTCR has also agreed to conduct climate surveys within the workplace, update policies and procedures regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and conduct training.

Michael Mendoza, director of the EEOC's Las Vegas Local Office, offers this practical takeaway: "Employers should be mindful of the demographics of their workforce, including whether employees may be more vulnerable to being targeted because of their age. It is the responsibility of the employer to create a safe workplace, free from discrimination and harassment."

With sexual harassment avoidance, you need to meet employees where they are. If employees aren't fluent in English, offer training and reporting in their native language(s). If they are especially vulnerable because of their age, pay closer attention to protecting them. And for goodness' sake, don't let your employees make unwelcome sexual advances, unwanted touching, and offensive comments to your young, teenage employees. And when you find out about it, don't ignore it and let it continue. Otherwise, the next $2 million settlement might be yours.