Court Orders Scottsdale Wine Bar to Pay $100,000 In EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

PHOENIX - A federal district court on March 21 ordered a Scottsdale, Ariz., wine bar to pay $100,000 for sexual harassment against two servers because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and for retaliation against one for complaining about it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the suit, announced today. The court also ordered injunctive relief against Scottsdale Wine Café, LLC, doing business as 5th & Wine.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, 5th & Wine allowed its management and line staff to harass Wyatt Lupton and Jared Bahnick, including egregious name calling, comments, innuendos and touching. Although the two employees complained to their supervisors, the supervisors did nothing about the conduct, and, in some instances, actually participated in the harassment, according to the federal agency. When Lupton mentioned that he planned on taking legal action against 5th & Wine, the company fired him, the EEOC said.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (Civil Action No. CV-17-00182-PHX-JJT), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

After 5th & Wine failed to defend itself in court, the district court held a default judgment hearing on Feb. 6, where the judge found 5th & Wine liable for sexual harassment and retaliation. On March 21, the court granted the EEOC's request to award Lupton and Bahnick compensatory and punitive damages totaling $100,000. The court also granted injunctive relief against 5th & Wine, including enjoining the company, its officers, agents, successors and other persons in active concert or participation with it from engaging in employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, including harassment because of sexual orientation, and retaliation in the future. The injunctive relief also required 5th & Wine and any successors draft and distribute policies regarding sex discrimination and retaliation, post equal employment opportunity notices and provide training on sex discrimination and retaliation.

"These two men were subject to absolutely unacceptable slurs and abuse at 5th & Wine, and we are proud that the district court understood the need to compensate them and to make sure that the company will take steps to prevent discrimination against others," said EEOC Phoenix District Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "Employers must understand that this kind of misconduct will not be tolerated."

EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, "This company should have acted right away to put a stop to this unlawful behavior. Instead, it made a bad situation worse by punishing one of the victims. Employers may not discriminate against employees because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation - or retaliate against them for complaining about it."

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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