The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on March 17th, 2022, that the fast food franchise, Long John Silver’s (the employer), will pay $200,000 as part of a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit. Additionally, the employer will need to institute harassment prevention policies and training. Overall, the decision enforces federal laws on workplace sexual harassment and advances the EEOC’s purpose. Earlier, a Detroit food distributor was ordered to pay over $400,000 to settle an EEOC sexual discrimination suit.

Brief Overview of the Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case

According to the EEOC lawsuit, the employer subjected a teenage female employee to sexual harassment at its location in Centralia, Illinois. Specifically, the employer failed to stop two adult male managers as they were sexually harassing the employee. All in all, the alleged harassment involved several clear offenses that included lewd comments, propositions for sex, sexually explicit text messages and videos, and unwanted touching. Furthermore, the employer retaliated against the employee in response to her objections. The suit alleges that the employer refused to investigate the teenage employee’s complaint, instead reducing her hours as retaliation.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Harassment

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, harassment is a type of illegal employment discrimination. Accordingly, the law defines harassment as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information (including family medical history). Markedly, harassment is illegal when:

  1. Enduring the harassment becomes a condition of continued employment, and
  2. It is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

In addition, the law requires employers to reasonably try to prevent and correct the behavior. Employers are responsible for any supervisors or other employees over whom they have control.

The Court’s Decision

In EEOC v. LJS Opco Two, LLC d/b/a Long John Silver’s Store #70250, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered the employer to pay $200,000 to the former employee in a two-year consent decree. Further, the decree requires the employer to institute:

  • harassment prevention policies;
  • training on Title VII, sexual harassment, and retaliation;
  • the posting of notices showing the settlement; and
  • periodic reports to the EEOC of any further sex discrimination complaints.

Movement Against Sexual Harassment

In the end, Julianne Bowman, EEOC Chicago District Director, stated that they hope the case will “serve as a warning to employers to monitor their workplaces for harassment and respond appropriately to complaints.” The movement against sexual harassment in the workplace is indeed prevalent nationwide. Notably, in the state of New York, Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed three bills that increased sexual harassment protections for New York State employees. In brief, the bills expand who is an “employer” in the state and what is considered retaliation. Finally, the bills establish a toll-free hotline to report complaints.