Excerpted from JDSUPRA By U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Fast-food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. and its subsidiary Chipotle Services, LLC will pay $95,000 and make substantial changes to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Austin Melton, a manager at a San Jose Chipotle store who was 22 years old at the time, was forced to endure pervasive verbal and physical harassment by his female supervisor. His supervisor propositioned Melton and his then-girlfriend for sex, touched him inappropriately, and posted a “scoreboard” in the main office to track the staff’s sexual activities. When Melton reported the harassment, he faced further mistreatment including being locked in a walk-in freezer, the EEOC’s suit alleged. After Chipotle failed to adequately address the harassment, Melton quit.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex-based harassment. After an investigation by the EEOC and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California [Case No. 5:17-cv-05382-BLF].
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $95,000 to Melton in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Chipotle to develop and implement additional policies, procedures, and trainings at 27 restaurants in the South Bay area to ensure harassment-free workplaces, and to enhance accountability and oversight of managers, supervisors and employees. The fast-food chain will provide tailored anti-discrimination trainings to its leadership and employees, make its EEO policies available to employees, track and report to the EEOC all complaints of sex harassment or retaliation it receives from its employees, and post a notice to employees about the consent decree and employees’ rights under federal law.
“This was my first job after high school, and it was hard to speak up about the harassment to management and then to the EEOC. But it was the right thing to do,” said Melton. “I hope this settlement will help to make the restaurants a better and safer workplace for everyone. I am thankful to the EEOC for standing up for me and seeing this through.”
EEOC Trial Attorney James H. Baker said, “Austin was simply trying to do his job, as he worked to support himself and his girlfriend. He faced conditions that no employee should have to accept in exchange for a paycheck.”
Noting that roughly 16% of sexual harassment charges filed with the agency are brought by male workers, Baker added, “Federal laws protect workers from sexual harassment and sexual abuse, regardless of their gender.”
“Combating workplace harassment is a top priority for the EEOC, and it is especially critical that we protect young employees, who may be particularly vulnerable to harassment and less familiar with their rights,” said EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo. “We commend Chipotle for taking meaningful steps to ensure that such harassment is not fostered in its restaurants.”
According to the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, younger workforces are at increased risk of harassment. Care must be taken to ensure that young, inexperienced employees are encouraged to speak up about unwelcome conduct.