Court: Sex Harassment Claims Not Enough for 'Pattern and Practice' Standard

April 22, 2005 ( - A New York federal judge has turned away a bid by the federal anti-workplace discrimination agency to charge a large Burger King franchise owner with maintaining a "pattern and practice" of sexual discrimination against women employees.

Chief US District Judge Frederick Scullin Jr., of the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, ruled that the 333 individuals who the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges were part of a group of sexual discrimination victims aren’t enough to show that the company made it a general business practice to sexually harass female workers, the New York Law Journal reported. The women worked at the restaurants that are owned by Carrols Corp. over an eight-year period. The company owns 350 Burger King franchises in 13 states.

Scullin had reviewed statements compiled by the EEOC from a total of 511 women who claimed they had been sexually harassed or subjected to a hostile work environment.

However, even the 333 cases Scullin accepted, when compared with the 90,835 women who worked at the Burger Kings from 1993 to 2001, were not enough to support a pattern-and-practice claim, Scullin ruled in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Carrols Corp., 98-1772. To establish such a claim, the EEOC must demonstrate systemic, companywide discrimination, he said.

The EEOC’s case was further weakened, Scullin wrote, because 103 of the 333 women with grievances had never complained to their supervisors. That shortcoming hampered the EEOC’s case in two respects, the judge wrote. First, the failure to take up complaints with supervisors “raises doubts about the existence and seriousness of the alleged harassment.” Then, the court said, the lack of complaints weakens the EEOC’s claims that Carrols let a permissive workplace atmosphere develop because it never had an opportunity to intervene in many of the instances complained about.

In any event, Scullin noted, Carrols reported having terminated 42 employees in response to 159 harassment complaints it investigated between 1990 and 2000. The company claimed that another 18 employees were suspended, two were demoted and 34 received written warnings.

Despite not being able to move forward on the more serious “pattern and practice” case, Scullin, however, allowed the agency to proceed with individual women’s claims.