NEW YORK – Icon Burger Acquisition, LLC, an international hamburger restaurant chain operating under the name Smashburger, has agreed to pay $70,000 and implement substantial non-monetary measures to settle a race harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a Smashburger manager in Long Island, N.Y., subjected an African American employee to a racially hostile work environment, frequently referring to him by racial slurs. She also harassed him for being in an interracial relationship, referring to him by racial slurs when speaking to his fiancée. The employee’s complaints to his district manager about this unlawful conduct were not taken seriously and the manager then succeeded in having him involuntarily transferred to a location much farther from his home, according to the EEOC.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from workplace harassment based on race. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (US EEOC v. Icon Burger Acquisition, LLC, Civil Action No. 20 Civ. 1601) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. This case was litigated by EEOC Trial Attorneys Liane T. Rice and Sebastian Riccardi and supervised by Supervisory Trial Attorneys Raechel Adams and Nora Curtin.
On November 20, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert entered a three-year consent decree to resolve the case. The decree gives $70,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and other damages for the employee and grants non-monetary relief, including: revisions to Smashburger’s nationwide anti-discrimination policies; creation of nationwide procedures for the investigation of discrimination and retaliation complaints; nationwide training for supervisors, management, and human resources employees; training for all New York employees; and periodic reporting to the EEOC.
“Calling an African American employee by cruel racial epithets is both abhorrent and unlawful. It is the responsibility of every employer to take prompt, thorough action when it receives a report of racial harassment,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein.
Judy Keenan, the EEOC’s New York District Director, said, “Racial slurs are unacceptable in the workplace, and it is an employer’s obligation to take immediate corrective action once it becomes aware of such misconduct.”
The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in New York, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.