- An Orlando, Florida, restaurant has agreed to pay $80,000 to a former bartender to resolve her sexual harassment and retaliation claims, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- In a lawsuit, the commission alleged that Christini's Ristorante Italiano, through its owner, created and encouraged a work environment in which "unwelcome, sexually charged comments and conduct" were permissible and commonplace. This allowed for the repeated propositioning of a female bartender, EEOC said; she was asked to go on dates, described to restaurant patrons as single and available to date them, subjected to sexual innuendo, and told to dress "sexy" and "date-ready." among other things. When she complained, the employer fired her, EEOC said.
- In addition to the monetary award, the restaurant agreed to provide a positive written job reference for the bartender. The agreement also requires the employer to hold anti-harassment training for the owner and all employees; hire a third party to manage an employee complaint hotline for harassment and discrimination complaints; and allow EEOC to conduct a workplace climate survey.
EEOC sexual harassment suits are increasing in frequency, perhaps due to the #MeToo movement. The commission filed 66 harassment lawsuits in fiscal year 2018, according to preliminary data from the agency, including 41 suits specifically alleging sexual harassment. That amounts to a more than 50% year-over-year increase in sexual harassment-specific suits compared to 2017 figures, EEOC said.
And while national headlines have focused on allegations at high-profile employers, suits like the one filed against Christini's show that no employer is immune. EEOC has made clear that it will pursue charges against employers big and small, and bring claims even when a non-employee is the harasser.
But despite public concern and outcry, the problem persists. Only 32% of U.S. workers in a recent American Physiological Association survey said their employer took new steps to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace since #MeToo gained traction. In response, some training mandates have emerged, and employers are facing increasing pressure to eliminate agreements that require employees to arbitrate harassment claims through.