According to EEOC data, the percentage of men filing sexual harassment charges nationwide has increased over the past decade from 12 to 16 percent of all charges involving sexual harassment. The EEOC recently got significant settlements in two lawsuits brought on behalf of men – one involving harassment by male co-workers, the other harassment by a female co-worker.
Cheesecake Factory agreed to pay $345,000 to settle a claim where, according to the EEOC, the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the men suffered sexually abusive behavior, including abusers directly touching victims’ genitals, making sexually charged remarks, grinding their genitals against them, and forcing victims into repeated episodes of simulated rape. Managers witnessed employees dragging their victims kicking and screaming into the refrigerator, the EEOC charged. in addition to the monetary relief for the six victims, the consent decree calls for the company to specifically train its employees and managers about sexual harassment and institute an ombudsman to field and address sexual harassment complaints by employees.
In the second lawsuit, the EEOC charged that the Regal Entertainment Group subjected a male employee to sexual harassment by a female co-worker and then retaliated against him for complaining about the unlawful conduct – along with two supervisors who tried to help. This case also involved “crotch grabbing.” The alleged retaliation consisted of unwarranted discipline, unfairly lower performance evaluations and/or stricter scrutiny of performance. The consent decree settling the case requires Regal Entertainment Group to provide annual anti-discrimination training to its employees; closely track any future discrimination complaints; and provide annual reports to the EEOC regarding its employment practices. Additionally, Regal Entertainment paid $175,000.
What can employers can learn from these cases?
- Touching is never acceptable in the workplace
- Managers must be trained to identify and report harassing behavior
- All employees should be trained annually on sexual harassment
- Managers must be trained not to retaliate
While it is not known what type of policies Cheesecake Factory and Regal Entertainment had in place, it can safely be assumed that both had written anti-harassment policies. But having a policy is never enough. Employers must publicize and adhere to the policy, train on the policy and investigate claims promptly and thoroughly.