Pour Over Effect: Wine Bar Hit with Large Harassment Judgment
5th and Wine, a Scottsdale, Arizona wine bar recently faced claims of sexual orientation harassment and retaliation. According to the complaint, the bar did nothing to stop alleged harassment against two servers, which include name calling, inappropriate touching and sexually based comments. Specifically, the two servers alleged that they were harassed based on a perception of their sexual orientation, then were retaliated against for complaining about the harassment.
On March 21, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ordered 5th and Wine to pay the servers $100,000 in compensatory and punitive damages following prosecution of the case by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC filed its lawsuit several months ago, and 5th and Wine failed to appear in court, resulting in a default judgment against the wine bar.
The court found that not only did supervisors at 5th and Wine do nothing to prevent the harassment, in many cases they actually participated in the misconduct. As soon as one of the servers alerted the employer that he was planning on filing a complaint with the EEOC, he was immediately fired.
This case presents a growing problem in employment law: small companies with a duty to prevent harassment from occurring actually participating in the misconduct. Many times, particularly in smaller businesses, supervisors, managers, executives and owners are in charge of taking complaints, yet also are the ones engaging in the misconduct. The slippery slope that is created when an employee is fired after making a complaint only exacerbates the problem.
So what to do?
The first step in preventing incidents of misconduct is to become aware that you may have a problem. If you are allowing an environment of jokes and innuendo to continue in your business (whether employees seem to tolerate it or not) you likely have a culture of harassment. Your company needs to take dedicated steps to prevent misconduct and change the culture, followed by a plan of maintenance to ensure a respectful workplace that is encouraging of diversity in thought and ideas. As you can see here, doubling down on intolerance with adverse employment action can lead to a significant penalty. It is likely that 5th and Wine does not have $100,000 to simply “make this go away,” and no business should feel comfortable paying that sum for an inappropriate set of circumstances.
Contact Syntrio to learn more about how we can help your organization best position itself to prevent incidents of harassment in the workplace!
Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance), and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.
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Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio