The franchise owner of several IHOP restaurants located throughout New Mexico has agreed to settle a sexual discrimination lawsuit for the sum of $1 million. The lawsuit alleged that a class of 22 women had been sexually harassed by a manager at one of the IHOP restaurants owned by the franchisee.
The group of women harassed by the manager, Lee Broadnax, ranged in age from women in their teens to those in their twenties. The youngest harassment victim was just sixteen years old at the time the conduct took place.
Broadnax engaged in several different types of harassment with multiple employees. In addition to making frequent attempts to kiss female employees, he also touched women who worked for him on their hips and buttocks. He also exhibited behavior that the women being harassed found disturbing, like staring at women employees and licking his lips.
Sexual harassment was pervasive in the IHOP restaurant where the lawsuit stemmed from, according to the EEOC. Broadnax was also accused of making comments about women's body parts and stated explicitly that he wanted to take clothes off of one of his employees.
The settlement represents a victory for the 22 women who had been victimized by the manager in the case. Strangely, this is not the first time that IHOP franchise owners have faced similar sexual harassment allegations this year. Earlier in the year, IHOP appealed a lower court ruling that held the company liable for harassment by a manager at another restaurant.
In that case, young girls had also been harassed by a manager, and the women involved had made complaints against their harasser. The attorneys for IHOP in that case maintained that because all employees, including managers, had attended sexual harassment seminars put on by the company, they were not liable for harassment coming from just one employee.
While that argument may have sounded convincing to IHOP, it didn't convince the judge, who found the restaurant liable for the harassment the employees had experienced. The court held that it was not enough to simply have an employee harassment and discrimination policy, or to train people regarding the policy—in order for a company to escape liability, it must be able to demonstrate that it has actually enforced the policy when a complaint is made.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been pursuing discrimination and harassment cases more aggressively in the last several years, following a slowdown during the Bush administration. In addition to pursuing sexual harassment allegations, gender discrimination and cases involving pregnancy discrimination are also ramping up as the EEOC continues to promote its mission of ending workplace discrimination for Americans.
IHOP has also agreed to include additional training regarding discrimination and harassment as part of its future employment training, and will provide employees with notice of the settlement.
Sources: uscourts.gov, eeoc.gov