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EEOC Recovers $125,000 in Harassment Suit Filed on Behalf of Teen Employees

EEOC Recovers $125,000 in Harassment Suit Filed on Behalf of Teen Employees

According to a September 22, 2022 press release from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), Koerner Management Group, Inc. (“KMG”), a holding company for International House of Pancakes (“IHOP”) franchise restaurants in Maryland and Virginia, has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC for $125,000. As part of the settlement, KMG has also agreed to take affirmative steps to prevent and correct discrimination in the workplace. The steps KMG agreed to take to improve its culture include a revamp of companywide anti-discrimination and harassment policies and to institute a reporting procedure for complaints. KMG also agreed to conduct company-wide harassment training and have available employment law support for investigations of incidents that may be raised in the future.

Teen Employees Allegedly Subjected to Horrific Harassment

The EEOC filed the lawsuit was on behalf of two teenage employees who were allegedly harassed by a male manager. The lawsuit alleged the employees were subjected to “graphic sexual comments and questions about the employees’ sex lives, groping, displaying pornographic material, and conditioning employment actions on responses to the manager’s sexual propositions. The lawsuit also alleges the employees were forced to quit their jobs due to the ongoing harassment.

Lack of Reporting Channels Problematic for Teen Employees

Teenage employees are a large segment of the American workforce that is extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse at work. According to Pew Research, more than 6 million U.S. teens had a paying job in summer 2021. This number amounts to over 1/3 of the U.S. teenage population. Teen employees are notoriously skeptical about coming forward with complaints due to the frequent age and power imbalance between themselves and managers or leadership at their places of work. For this reason, it is all too often that incidents like those at the IHOP franchises under KMG’s management go unreported.

When there is no anonymous channel for reporting in organizations with large numbers of teen employees (either on a seasonal or part-time basis), it is all the more likely something is going on that the organization has no knowledge of. Therefore, it is critical that organizations of all sizes maintain and promote the opportunity to come forward with allegations of misconduct. There are a variety of ways to empower employees to speak up, ranging from educating them on proper methods of reporting to offering an anonymous hotline. What is critical is that all employees (and importantly teen employees) know they can freely speak up without fear of adverse job consequences.

Education Opportunity Critical for Teen Employees

Harassment training and speak up education is a critical part of any workplace policy aimed at combatting harassment in the workplace. But in those organizations where teens are likely to be working, such programs are even more important. Many teen employees do not have the experience or understanding to know that misconduct on the part of their co-workers or managers is wrong, and even fewer understand that it is their right to speak up about questionable conduct (and feel comfortable doing so without fear of retaliation). For this reason, it is critical that your organization institute not just anti-harassment training, but a full range of educational programs that empower your employees to understand what harassment and discrimination are, and how, when and to whom to speak up when they experience or witness an incident.

Syntrio has a full library of courseware and communication tools that can help your organization send the message that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated in the workplace. We welcome the opportunity to partner with your organization to communicate this critical message to your workforce (teen and adult) and educate all employees on the negative impact harassment has on workplace culture and their lives. Feel free to contact a member of our staff to see what training and communication options would work best for your workforce.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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