Workers at Holtsville Restaurant Used Abusive Language Toward Black Chef, and Restaurant Failed to Stop Harassment, Federal Agency Says
NEW YORK - A popular Tex-Mex restaurant violated federal law when it engaged in race-based harassment of a black chef, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a new lawsuit it filed today.
According to EEOC's suit, Michael Carrethers, an African-American cook at On the Border's Holtsville, N.Y., location, was subjected to frequent verbal harassment and offensive language by co-workers. The harassment included the regular and open use of racial slurs such as "n-----r" toward Carrethers, as well as calling him other offensive terms like "black bean."
The EEOC said that even though On the Border's management was aware of and sometimes present for the harassment, it failed to stop the abuse or to discipline any of the harassers. The complaint states that one employee referred to Carrethers as "n-----r" multiple times a week.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race and multiple other bases, as well as retaliation for opposing or reporting discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EEOC v. On the Border Acquisitions, LLC, d/b/a On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-05122) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief to insure this doesn't happen again. The agency's litigation effort will be led by Senior Trial Attorney Charles F. Coleman, Jr. and supervised by Supervisory Trial Attorney Nora Curtin.
"The abuse to which Mr. Carrethers was subjected at On the Border is totally unacceptable," said EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein. "The EEOC will file lawsuits like this to make sure that the clock is not turned backwards in any workplace."
Charles F. Coleman, Jr., lead trial attorney on the case for the EEOC, said, "It is indefensible for this sort of language to be used so freely and repeatedly in the workplace. An employer cannot allow such ongoing harassment to occur while doing nothing to correct it."
Kevin Berry, the EEOC's New York District director, added, "This type of harassment demonstrates why the EEOC's work is as crucial now as it has ever been."
On its website, On the Border states that it is the country's largest casual Mexican restaurant chain, with over 140 locations and 6,000 employees nationwide.
Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is a national priority identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). To learn more about EEOC's strategic plan and enforcement priorities, visit http://www.eeoc.gov/EEOC/plan/sep.cfm.