The federal agency claims that two Brinker International-owned Chili’s restaurants–one in Texas, and another in Arkansas–failed to protect teenage employees from sexual harassment and predation.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against Brinker International, the Dallas-based owner of Maggiano’s and Chili’s, claiming that female employees at a Prosper-area Chili’s were subjected to a discriminatory and “sexually hostile” work environment.
According to The Dallas Morning News, the lawsuit is one of two sexual harassment lawsuits filed by the E.E.O.C. against Brinker: the first claim alleges sexual misconduct at a Prosper, Texas, location, while the other suggests that female employees in Benton, Arkansas, endured an unsafe work environment where sexual harassment and physical assaults were commonplace.
The Prosper lawsuit contends that a 36-year-old male cook grabbed and touched a female employee while making vulgar comments.
Male cooks and other employees also allegedly harassed teenage servers and kitchen staff.
At both the Texas and Arkansas locations, the restaurants reportedly failed to train teenage employees on their anti-harassment policy.
They also “failed to take proper action when teens complained about sexual assaults,” and “failed to conduct any onsite investigation.”
“The EEOC is committed to protecting younger workers from unlawful harassment and workplace discrimination,” E.E.O.C. Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a press release. “Teen workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment because they may not fully understand their workplace rights and often lack the ability or self-confidence to resist unwelcome conduct.”
Alexa Lang, an E.E.O.C. trial attorney in the agency’s Dallas district, said that employers must take additional steps to ensure that underage and other vulnerable employees are protected from workplace harassment.
“Employers who regularly hire teenage employees working their first jobs have a heightened responsibility to keep those employees safe. It is unacceptable that these young women’s first experience in the workforce was mired in sexual harassment,” Lang said.
A spokesperson for Brinker International told the Morning News that, while the company does not comment on pending litigation, it seeks to ensure that all of its employees’ rights are respected and protected.
“Brinker is committed to a culture of inclusion and making our team members and guests feel safe and welcome in each of our restaurants across the country. We have customized training programs to ensure our workplace expectations are clear, and we work hard to ensure lines of communication are open with team members to address any concerns,” Brinker said in a statement.
Both lawsuits are seeking monetary compensation for the victims, including damages for back pay, lost benefits, and compensatory and punitive damages.
The E.E.O.C. has also requested a court order instructing Brinker International to improve its training policies and sexual harassment investigation procedures.