Restaurateur Hit with $1.55-Million Sex Harassment Award

June 23, 2003 ( - A Tampa, Florida federal court jury has slapped a restaurant firm with a $1.55 million jury verdict in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

>According to an announcement by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the verdict came in the suit against Applebee’s International, Inc., Rio Bravo International, Inc. and Innovative Restaurant Concepts, Inc. for sexual harassment occurring from approximately 1994 until early 1998 at their formerly owned Rio Bravo Cantina restaurant in Clearwater, Florida. Prior to trial, the Court dismissed Applebee’s International, Inc. as a named defendant in the case.

>The EEOC statement said that the jury verdict came after a 12-day trial and represented an award of $10,000 to each of the five plaintiffs and a $500,000 in punitive damages each for three of the five women.

>The EEOC lawsuit, filed in 1999, said that former waitresses and hostesses were subjected to acts of verbal and physical sexual conduct on the part of one of the employer’s assistant managers and, despite repeated complaints to management, the corporate defendants failed to take necessary steps to stop the harassment.

>According to the anti-discrimination agency, the harassment of the young women included touching, groping and rubbing their breasts, legs and buttocks in a sexually offensive manner; forcing the women to sit on the assistant manager’s lap before leaving their shifts; attempting to kiss them; and making graphic, offensive sexual remarks to them. The EEOC argued that the women repeatedly complained to management about the sexually offensive conduct; however, the corporate defendants failed to implement corrective action.

The case is (EEOC, et al. v. Rio Bravo International, Inc. et. al., Civil Case No. 99-1371-CIV-T-17A).