IHOP stores settle with teens for $1 million

The EEOC has reached a $975,000 settlement with two IHOP franchises in Illinois over allegations that management turned a blind eye to sexual harassment directed at teenage employees.

The settlement came after the EEOC filed suit on behalf of 16 young workers it identified during a wide-ranging investigation.

According to the lawsuit, the EEOC discovered that the workers, most of them teenagers at the time, had been sexually harassed by both co-workers and supervisors. The allegations included accounts of offensive sexual comments, groping, physical threats and even attempted forced oral sex with a manager.

The workers will share the settlement. The two restaurants will also develop and implement new sexual harassment policies, train all employees on preventing harassment and actively monitor staff to ensure no more harassment takes place.

This case is part of an ongoing EEOC effort to protect teen workers against discrimination and harassment, which includes litigating systemic cases such as this one. The youth initiative is in turn part of a larger emphasis on combatting workplace sexual harassment in general.

The EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace issued an extensive report in 2016, including educational materials that emphasize management leadership and bystander reporting as keys to preventing sexual harassment at work.

The task force recently reconvened in light of the #MeToo social media movement, which has been instrumental in bringing to light many sexual harassment cases at the highest levels.

With more than 20 million teens in the workplace today, managers need to be aware of these cases and their potential cost to their organizations. Minors in the workplace have the same legal protection as adults. But conduct that we’d all recognize as inappropriate among adults can often be chalked up to youthful high spirits and a propensity to engage in horseplay.

Remember that many of a teens’ co-workers—and sometimes even their supervisors—are teens themselves. And often many of the customers are also teens. Make sure you explain, as a part of new-employee orientation, what sexual harassment is and what the consequences will be. Make it safe and easy for teens to report harassment; many girls are embarrassed or afraid of losing their jobs if they speak up.

Online resources Find the EEOC’s portal page on the task force’s findings at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment.

The EEOC maintains a separate web page, called Youth@Work, to address harassment issues affecting young workers. Find it at www.eeoc.gov/youth. The site includes curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to teach new employees about their rights.