The owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise will pay $290,000 and agree to enter into a six-year settlement agreement after it refused to investigate charges that the store manager was sexually harassing female workers. Many of the employees were just 16 and 17 years old at the time.
According to the complaint, the manager of the Wynantskill Dunkin’ Donuts regularly made lewd sexual comments and engaged in unwanted touching and hugging. Although employees reported the harassment to the company, no investigation took place for over a year.
Only when employees reported the incidents to local police did the company take any action.
Eventually, the franchisee fired the manager, but the long delay in taking any action simply added more weight to the employees’ complaints.
Efforts to resolve the dispute through the EEOC’s conciliation process failed. When the EEOC filed suit in federal court, however, that got the owner’s attention. That’s when the franchise elected to settle instead of facing a court trial.
In addition to paying monetary damages, the employer agreed to the appointment of an equal opportunity coordinator and sexual harassment training for all employees. The unusual length of the agreement—six years—points to the EEOC’s belief that the company’s past misbehavior warranted extensive supervision.
Notes: Ignoring sexual harassment complaints won’t make them go away. In fact, it often makes the problem worse, because harassers may be emboldened iffails to step in. And employers that know about harassment but don’t do anything to stop it face expensive civil liability. The problem is especially serious when the victims include young workers.
This case also illustrates that sexual harassment can sometimes cross the line into criminal activity.
Advice: In all cases of alleged harassment, investigate promptly and impartially. If the allegations turn out to be true, punish the offender and document your investigative and disciplinary process.
- Win discrimination cases by showing that your rules apply equally to everyone
- Weigh special assignment as accommodation
- Don't let your policy create an end run for disabled employees
- Need to fire someone with known medical issues? Be prepared to prove your good faith
- Assume that hostile work environment claims under ADEA will fly