Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tavern on the Green Settles Harassment Suit

TaverngreenThe NYT is reporting that Central Park's Tavern on the Green restaurant has agreed to settle a race/sex/national origin discrimination lawsuit filed last fall by the EEOC. The EEOC's press release said that the restaurant

engaged in severe and pervasive sexual, racial, and national origin harassment of female, black, and Hispanic employees. The sexual harassment included graphic comments and demands for various sex acts, as well as groping of women’s buttocks and breasts. The racial and national origin harassment included epithets toward black and Hispanic employees and ridiculing Hispanics for their accents. The restaurant also retaliated against employees for refusing to consent to and/or objecting to the harassment, according to the EEOC.

Managers in positions of authority allegedly participated in the misconduct. The consent decree will create a claim fund of $2.2 million to be allocated to victims of the harassment and/or retaliation. Additionally, the restaurant will establish a telephone hotline which employees may use to raise any discrimination complaints, distribute a revised policy against discrimination and retaliation, and provide training to all employees against discrimination and retaliation.

The restaurant opened in 1934, describes itself as “the highest-grossing independently owned restaurant in the United States with annual revenues in excess of $34 million and over half a million visitors a year.”

This lawsuit was part of the EEOC's E-RACE Initiative (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment), a national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign focusing on new and emerging race and color issues in the 21st century workplace, announced Feb. 28, 2007, by EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp.

Settling was probably very wise from a PR standpoint. Still, since the management seems to have been hostile to so many groups, I wonder if the EEOC would have been successful in proving that the harassment was because of those employees' protected classes. The content of the harassment seems to support that, but an overly abusive workplace could be seen to bleed into an "equal opportunity" harassment situation, which courts have held does not violate Title VII.

MM

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