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Employer Did Nothing To Protect Sexual Harassment Victims EEOC Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Claims

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Having represented sexual harassment victims for more than twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys know that sexual harassment remains pervasive in the American workplace.  In far too many cases, our Inverness, Florida sexual harassment lawyers have learned, employers take no action to stop sexual harassment and protect sexual harassment victims.  In this article, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment attorneys explain how a recent sexual harassment case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that employers are under a severe duty to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

On June 9, 2021, the EEOC issued a press release announcing that it has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against SDI of Mineola, LLC, d/b/a Sonic Drive-In (Sonic). On June 9, 2021, the EEOC filed the sexual harassment case, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. SDI of Mineola, LLC, d/b/a Sonic Drive-In, Case No. 6:21-cv-00226, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Before moving forward with litigation, the EEOC initially attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. Conciliation efforts having proved unsuccessful, the EEOC invoked its right under federal law to protect employee rights by filing the lawsuit.

Legal Protection From Sexual Harassment

The EEOC has filed the sexual harassment lawsuit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) on behalf of three former employees of Sonic, V. Spurgeon (Spurgeon), K. McElya, and T. Hollingsworth (Hollingsworth). Title VII makes discrimination against employees on the basis of sex an unlawful employment practice. Under long standing law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII. Sexual harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment violates Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination.

In Curry v. District of Columbia, 195 F.3d 654 (D.C. Cir. 1999), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia observed that “Title VII does not permit employers to stand idly by once they learn that sexual harassment has occurred.”  Instead, as the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Fuller v. City of Oakland, Cal., 47 F.3d 1522 (9th Cir. 1995) explained, “[o]nce an employer knows or should know of harassment, a remedial obligation kicks in.” “That obligation,” the Fuller court pointed out, “will not be discharged until action—prompt, effective action—has been taken.” As determined by the Ninth Circuit in Nichols v. Azteca Restaurant Enterprises, Inc., 256 F.3d 864 (9th Cir. 2001), “[w]hen an employer undertakes no remedy, or where the remedy does not end the harassment and deter future harassment, liability attaches for both the past harassment and an future harassment.”

EEOC Claims Sexual Hostile Work Environment

Spurgeon, McElya, and Hollingsworth worked as car-hops at Sonic’s restaurant in Mineola, Texas. During their employment, according to the EEOC, the three female employees were subjected to continuous sexually harassing behavior by the co-manager of the restaurant. The co-manager’s alleged sexual harassment of Spurgeon included sexual remarks, asking for kisses and messages, and touching. In August 2019, the EEOC alleges, Spurgeon reported the co-manager’s sexual misconduct to the restaurant’s general manager. Despite Spurgeon’s sexual harassment complaint, the EEOC asserts, Sonic took no remedial action to stop the sexual harassment from continuing. Instead, the co-manager was promoted to the position of general manager at another nearby Sonic restaurant.

On his last night working at Sonic in Mineola, the co-manager allegedly approached Spurgeon and said: “This is your last chance to run away with me.” The EEOC claims that this comment was made in front of other female employees. After the comment was made, according to the EEOC, several female employees began discussing that they had experienced similar sexual harassment from the co-manager. Some of those discussions took place in the presence of an assistant manager. The assistant manager, the EEOC maintains, failed to take any remedial action. The EEOC claims that Spurgeon was compelled to resign her employment due to intolerable working conditions, including Sonic’s failure to take any remedial action after her complaint.

Harassment Continues Despite Complaint

Like Spurgeon, McKlya was in high school when she started working for Sonic in February 2019. The co-manager’s alleged sexual harassment towards McKlya included sexual remarks and rubbing his body against hers. As time passed, according to the EEOC, the severity of the co-manager’s harassment of McKlya increased. In the fall of 2019, the EEOC asserts, the co-manager committed an “especially egregious acts of harassment that included unwelcome touching and grabbing of McKyla.” Unable to withstand any further harassment, the EEOC contends, McKyla resigned her employment.

The EEOC alleges that the co-manager made unwanted verbal remarks to Hollingsworth as frequently as 4-5 times a day when she worked with him. The sexual remarks included asking her to perform sexual acts. The co-manager also allegedly engaged in physical sexual harassment of Hollingsworth, including reaching into her apron and rubbing up against her.

Attorneys For Harassment Victims

The EEOC is the administrative agency of the United States with the obligation under federal law for interpreting and enforcing the federal employment laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In order to preserve and protect employee rights, the EEOC brings lawsuits in federal court on behalf of sexual harassment victims.

In a press release issued by the EEOC on June 9, 2021 regarding the case, a senior trial attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, Joel Clark, explained that “preying on young women is bad enough.” “Here,” Mr. Clark observed, “even after the sexual harassment was reported to management, Sonic did nothing to protect these women.” In commenting on the case, the Director of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office stated that “managers have a responsibility to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment for all employees under their supervision, especially teen workers who are particularly vulnerable to this kind of abuse.”

Inverness, FL Sexual Harassment Attorneys

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida sexual harassment lawyers have litigated sexual harassment cases in Florida courts for more than two decades. If you have been sexually harassed at work or have questions about your rights as a victim of sexual harassment, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Inverness, Florida sexual harassment attorneys. Our employment and labor law attorneys take sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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