Without admitting any wrongdoing, Carrols Corporation, the world's largest operator of Burger King franchises, recently settled a multi-state lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Carrols operates 575 Burger King restaurants in 13 states, although apparently not in Minnesota. In fact, just last year Carrols acquired 278 Burger King restaurants, and Burger King Corporation gained a 28.9 percent stake in Carrols.
That's why the settlement could create such a whopper of a public relations problem for BK. According to the EEOC, the sexual harassment and retaliation by managers of Carrols-run Burger Kings were ugly.
The lawsuit involves 89 female employees, many of whom who were teenagers at the time of the incidents. The EEOC claims that, at multiple locations over the course of several years, female Burger King workers were subjected to sexual harassment that ranged from obscene propositions and unwanted touching to strip searches, exposing their genitals, and even rape.
In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators of the harassment were managers. When the employees complained of their treatment, the EEOC claims, the managers would retaliate by reducing their hours, manufacturing discipline, creating such intolerable working conditions that the women felt forced to quit, or even firing them outright.
"The harassment reported by the women in this case was truly egregious, with the majority of cases involving physical contact," said one trial attorney for the EEOC's New York District. "No woman, regardless of age, should have to endure such abuse just to earn a paycheck."
By the terms of the EEOC settlement, Carrols will pay $2.5 million to compensate the 89 plaintiffs. The company also agreed in the consent decree to make major changes to the way it trains managers to prevent sexual harassment and respond appropriately -- without retaliation -- when complaints arise.
The company will also have to post notices about the settlement of the lawsuit in employee areas in all of its Burger King restaurants, along with information about their rights under the settlement and federal employment law.
For its part, Carrols insists that none of its executives did anything wrong, despite substantiated instances of grave and shameful harassment and retaliation having occurred at numerous restaurants it operated over a period of years. Nevertheless, it plans to make changes to its sexual harassment policies regardless of any supposed wrongdoing.
The fact that someone has a low-pay, low-status job does not mean they are any less entitled to the protection from egregious discrimination, harassment and retaliation our country has worked hard to create.
- EEOC press release, "Carrols Corp. To Pay $2.5 Million to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit," Jan. 9, 2013
- examiner.com, "Burger King franchise pays $2.5 million to settle sexual harassment lawsuit," Bryan Carey, Jan. 11, 2013
Our law firm fights for the rights of people facing sexual harassment and retaliation in Minnesota. For more information, please see our website.