A series of recent verdicts, settlements, and case filings not only evidences a disturbing trend, but also highlights the need for businesses of all sizes to take a hard look at what they are doing to combat workplace harassment. In just the past month we have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out just via EEOC conciliation and litigation alone. This alarming trend is simply the tip of the iceberg for these organizations, many of which are faced with reputational damage and morale issues that they may never recover from.
Harassment Incident Costs Tapioca Express $102,500
California restaurant chain and tea dealer Tapioca Express (via two of its franchises) settled a recent complaint by two Filipino females (aged 17 and 23) on July 29, 2019. The employees claimed the franchise owner made unwanted sexual advances and physical contact with them. According to the lawsuit, many employees of Tapioca Express were compelled to quit their jobs due to this franchise owner’s inappropriate conduct.
After an EEOC investigation revealed merit to the employees’ complaint, the company agreed to pay $102,500 to settle the case, which the agency found the parent company primarily responsible for failing to prevent harassment and creating a hostile culture via its franchises. In addition to the monetary damages, Tapioca Express was ordered to conduct harassment training for all employees and hire an external auditor to monitor its compliance efforts.
Piggly Wiggly Forced to pay $50,000 to settle Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit
On July 26, 2019, grocery chain Piggly Wiggly agreed to pay $50,00 to settle a harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC. According to the filing, a male employee made horrific comments and sexual advances to two female employees in Georgia. The lawsuit alleged the employees complained to the store manager, who “laughed at them and dismissed their complaints.” Furthering the issues, Piggly Wiggly allegedly cut both employees hours in the days immediately following their conversations with the store manager.
As with the Tapioca Express case discussed above, a critical element of the EEOC’s investigation centered on Piggly Wiggly’s lack of effort to prevent ongoing harassment. In addition to paying the $50,000 the company was forced to post notices of the incident in its workplaces and conduct mandatory sexual harassment training for all of its employees.
Blackwater Protection Agrees to Pay $35,000 to Settle Harassment Lawsuit
Less than one month ago, on July 18, 2019, detective agency Blackwater Protection settled a harassment case filed by the EEOC against the owner of the company for $35,000. The lawsuit alleged the company’s CEO routinely subjected one of its employees to inappropriate comments and retaliated when the employee rejected his overtures.
The CEO also asked the employee if she was gay and “whom she found attractive at work.” He also petted the employee’s hair and asked her to engaged in sexual acts with him after she had been employed by Blackwater for only one week.
In addition to the monetary relief Blackwater has agreed to pay, it also was ordered to conduct mandatory harassment training and provide a written program detailing how it will seek to combat harassment in the future.
Each of the cases discussed above concern company cultures where harassment prevention was not emphasized. In each lawsuit, the EEOC argued that the companies involved had not done enough to prevent incidents of harassment from occurring. Not surprisingly, none of these organizations had done any training, and none of them had programs to prevent harassment. In each case the organization was ordered to (or agreed) to provide harassment training as part of the settlement.
There is simply no reason why an organization can justify the non-existence of a training program given the number of orders for training issued today. Whether your organization is operating in a state where training is mandatory or not, as you can see every settlement of a case filed by the EEOC orders training as part of the remedy. Rather than wait until the day invariably comes when an incident occurs, now is the time to do all your organization can to stop these incidents from occurring before it is too late.