Applebee'sTo Pay $1 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit

 September 2, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Food Management Investors, Inc. (FMI) and Apple Core Enterprises, Inc. have agreed to resolve a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) relating to practices at their Bismarck, North Dakota Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, in the largest EEOC settlement in North Dakota. 

According to a news release from EEOC, Applebee’s violated federal civil rights laws by permitting a former store manager to create a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliation against employees, the EEOC charged in a lawsuit filed in June 2010. (EEOC v. Apple Core Enterprises, Inc. & Food Management Investors, Inc. d/b/a Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, No. 1:10-cv-00048 (DLH/CSM)). 

The EEOC filed its suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary, out-of-court settlement through its conciliation process. 

 

According to the EEOC’s complaint, which followed a pre-suit administrative investigation directed by John Rowe, Director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, between 2002 and the end of 2007, former Bismarck South Applebee’s General Manager Mike Cordova allegedly regularly solicited sexual advances and had inappropriate sexual conduct towards female employees. He also allegedly exposed employees to pornography, told sexually explicit stories and jokes and made highly personalized sexual comments designed to demean and humiliate female employees. The EEOC’s investigation indicated on at least one occasion, Cordova allegedly coerced an employee into giving him sexual favors in exchange for a raise. 

Despite repeated complaints by employees and, on occasion, customers, Applebee’s allegedly failed to discipline or stop Cordova’s behavior. Five women previously employed at the Bismarck South Applebee’s filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC that led to the lawsuit. Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

“This case demonstrates in a rather emphatic way that sexual harassment is still a challenge for women at some of our best known neighborhood businesses,” Rowe said. 

The EEOC’s lawsuit ended when U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland entered a consent decree resolving the suit. Under the terms of the decree, the ACE and FMI will pay out $1 million in compensatory damages to 17 female former employees who experienced Cordova’s sexual harassment and retaliation during their employment at the Bismarck South Applebee’s. The companies are required to implement a comprehensive training program to enable its employees to identify sexual harassment and properly investigate internal complaints. 

“This manager’s sexual harassment of his subordinates was blatant and ugly, and it permeated every aspect of life on the job for these women. Women who work in restaurants have it tough enough without having to put up with illegal sexual misconduct,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago. 

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