A lawsuit alleging that an Applebee’s restaurant in Bismarck, North Dakota permitted its restaurant general manager to create a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliation against employees was resolved by a consent decree approved by U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland on September 2, 2011. Under the terms of the decree reached with the EEOC, the restaurant will pay out $1 million in compensatory damages to seventeen female employees who were subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation during their employment. The decree also requires that the restaurant implement a training program to enable Applebee’s employees to identify sexual harassment and properly investigate internal complaints.
The lawsuit claimed that between 2002 and the end of 2007, Applebee’s General Manager, Mike Cordova, regularly groped female employees, solicited sexual relations, and exposed himself. He also allegedly exposed female employees to pornography, told sexually explicit stories and jokes, made highly personalized sexual comments designed to demean and humiliate female employees, and on at least one occasion, allegedly coerced an employee into giving him oral sex in exchange for a raise. The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that despite repeated complaints by employees and customers, Applebee’s failed to discipline or stop Cordova’s behavior. Five women previously employed at the same location then filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC.
John Rowe, Director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, said in a press release, “This case demonstrates in a rather emphatic way that sexual harassment is still a challenge for women at some of our best known neighborhood businesses.” Sexual harassment, and retaliation for complaining about it, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.