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Food service workers often face harassment. Many are teens.

A recent lawsuit settlement with a sports bar franchise highlights a sector that has one of the highest rates of workplace sexual harassment.

Female employees in the bar, restaurant and fast food industries are routinely subjected to unwanted advances, unlawful touching and other harassment. Teenage girls in these jobs are especially vulnerable to harassment by supervisors and co-workers.

Sports bar chain paid $700,000 to settle harassment and retaliation suit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it had settled a lawsuit against a group of businesses that operate several Ojos Locos ("Crazy Eyes") Sports Cantina restaurants in New Mexico and Texas. The owners agreed to pay $700,000 and institute changes to resolve allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation. The lawsuit on behalf of 12 women at the Albuquerque location described a pattern of pervasive and egregious conduct by management:

  • Unwelcome touching
  • Sexualized comments about their breasts and buttocks
  • Comments from male employees about their own private parts
  • Requests to display more cleavage with their uniforms
  • Text messages asking for sex
  • One management official "sexting" a photo of his penis to a female employee

At least one of the employees was under 18. One of the women said was fired after she refused advances. Others quit because of the hostile working environment and management ignoring their complaints. In addition to the monetary settlement, the EEOC negotiated a three-year consent decree. Ojos Locos must revise its sexual harassment policies and training at all its locations, specifically train managers and HR personnel, and to submit to monitoring and annual auditing.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

An industry-wide problem

The EEOC has identified risk factors for sexual harassment. Staffers at bars, restaurants, fast food joints and coffee shops meet many of the criteria:

  • Workplaces with many young workers - Teenagers and young adults in their first jobs may not know their rights or how to resist unwelcome overtures. They have fewer job skills and thus fewer options to quit and find work elsewhere.
  • Workplaces that rely on customer satisfaction -- The viral video of the fed-up restaurant server who "put the smackdown" on a patron who blatantly goosed her backside as she walked past him is not the norm. Many tipped employees feel compelled to put up with grabby patrons, tight-fitting uniforms and sexualized comments to earn better tips. Too often management takes the customer's side or fires those who complain.
  • Decentralized workplaces - Harassment often goes unchecked at chain restaurants that are far removed from corporate oversight. The chain of command for reporting sexual harassment is broken, especially when the local manager is the offender. Those who complain can expect fewer hours, undesirable shifts and other reprisal.


Sexual harassment is never 'part of the job description'

No one is required to put up with sexual harassment, regardless of whether you rely on tips and regardless of where your coworkers may draw the line. Reporting the misconduct is scary. But remember that the law is on your side. Harassment is illegal, and retaliation for reporting harassment is illegal. If the employer will not step up to protect you, contact a lawyer who will.

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