Major New England McDonald’s Owner/Operator to Pay $1,600,000 to Settle EEOC Class Harassment and Retaliation Suit

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

Vermont-Based Coughlin Created Sexually Hostile Work Environment Against Class of Workers, Mostly Teens, Federal Agency Charged
 

NEW YORK – Coughlin, Inc., a Vermont-based company that owns and operates ten McDonald’s franchise restaurants in Vermont and New Hampshire, will pay $1,600,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the State of Vermont, and Plaintiff-Intervenor, the Estate of Jennie Lumbra, the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, employees at the Randolph, Vermont McDonald’s location were subjected to a hostile working environment by a male night shift manager, who touched them inappropriately, hit and groped their genitals, breasts and buttocks, and subjected them to sexually explicit derogatory comments and threats of physical harm. The employer also retaliated against at least one employee by revoking her disability-related reasonable accommo­dation and forcing her to quit after she complained, the EEOC charged.

All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their sex or to retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity, including complaining about workplace sexual harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Plaintiff-Intervenors, the Estate of Jennie Lumbra, and the State of Vermont filed suit shortly after the EEOC. The case was litigated by EEOC Trial Attorneys Katie Linehan and Cara Chomski, supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorneys Kimberly A. Cruz and Sara Smolik.

“Combating workplace harassment and retaliation is a top priority for the EEOC,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “The agency will continue to vigorously enforce Title VII, particularly in cases involving teenage workers who may be more vulnerable to being taken advantage of by coworkers or their superiors.”

Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for EEOC’s New York District, said, “Protecting vulnerable workers in the fast food industry is a strategic enforcement priority for our district. The mostly teenage employees working at this McDonald’s location were particularly vulner­able to sex harassment and retaliation. The EEOC is committed to vigorously enforcing anti-discrimination laws on behalf of all restaurant industry workers.”

The five-year consent decree settling the suit provides a total of $1,475,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages to be distributed to employees of the restaurant who were subject to sex harassment and retaliation, as well as to the Estate of Jennie Lumbra, the employee who filed the original charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Additionally, Coughlin will pay $125,000 to the State of Vermont in civil penalties.

The decree also provides for significant non-monetary relief designed to prevent further discrimination. These provisions include an injunction prohibiting future discrimination; exten­sive anti-discrimination and harassment training, including interactive training for the company’s managers and human resources personnel; revisions to company equal employment opportunity policies and procedures for investigating sex harassment complaints; hiring of an independent monitor to oversee Coughlin’s compliance with the decree; and a requirement to report all com­plaints of sex discrimination and/or retaliation to the EEOC. Coughlin also agreed to prohibit the manager who participated in the harassment from entering its premises. The EEOC will monitor Coughlin’s compliance with these obligations for the next five years.

EEOC New York District Director Judy Keenan said, “Unfortunately, sexual harassment remains prevalent in the fast food industry. We applaud Coughlin’s willingness to begin making changes necessary to combat discrimination in its workplace and provide a safer and better working environment for its employees, many of whom are working their first job.”

EEOC Trial Attorney Cara Chomski added, “We were very pleased to work with Coughlin to craft a comprehensive settlement that will greatly benefit the company’s employees going forward. The settlement takes significant steps to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and protect vulnerable workers in the future.”

The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and conducting agency enforcement actions in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The EEOC’s Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/ ) presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination, including curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities.

For more information on sexual harassment, please visit https://www.eeoc.gov/sexual-harassment. For more information on retaliation, please visit https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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