An Applebee’s franchise in the Greater Tampa area has agreed to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit alleging that the company failed to stop a barrage of racist and homophobic harassment directed against one of its employees.
The employee, a former line cook, began working at the Applebee’s in Plant City, Florida, just 25 miles outside of Tampa in March 2019. He worked roughly five to six shifts each week. Over the next three months, he would be subjected to on-the job harassment at the hands of two co-workers, according to a press release from the EEOC.
According to the EEOC complaint, the employee, who is Black and gay, was subjected to near-constant abuse while working at the restaurant, with the two co-workers uttering racial and homophobic slurs and epithets loud enough so he could hear them. They also allegedly cracked homophobic jokes about his sexual orientation. The worker claimed he repeatedly heard the “n-word” throughout his employment, and one of the alleged harassers regularly wore Confederate flag paraphernalia while working at the restaurant.
When the worker complained to management about the harassment from his co-workers, he was told his co-workers were “just joking around” and advised to “ignore” them. The store manager claimed to have conducted an investigation into the harassment charges, but Applebee’s has no record of such an investigation ever having occurred.
Despite complaining to various levels of management at the restaurant, no action was taken against the other employees. Eventually, he attempted to contact Neighborhood Restaurant Partners Florida (NRP), LLC, which runs, owns and operates the Applebee’s in Plant City. After this, his scheduled hours were cut by more than half.
When the employee asked for more hours, he was told there were “no more” for him, prompting him to quit. He then filed a complaint with he EEOC, alleging he was subjected to discrimination based on race and sexual orientation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously found that employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of sex-based discrimination and is unlawful under Title VII.
Based on the line cook’s complains, the EEOC found there was enough evidence to reasonably believe the employee had been discriminated against and retaliated against for complaining about the harassment. The EEOC attempted to reach a settlement with NRP LLC, but when no agreement could be reached, filed suit on the employee’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
NRP LLC has since agreed to settle the lawsuit, agreeing to pay $100,000 in monetary relief. Under a three-year consent decree, the company agreed to provide specialized training on sexual orientation and race discrimination to human resources officers and managers to ensure they are “aware of their obligations to prevent workplace discrimination and how to address complaints,” according to the EEOC.
The decree also requires the company to appoint an internal consent decree monitor to review complaints of sexual orientation and race-based harassment, and provide EEOC with reports of harassment complaints and how they were addressed.
“No employee should have to endure homophobic and racist harassment by co-workers,” EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg said in a statement. “Failing to take corrective action to correct a work environment permeated with racial and homophobic slurs, and, even worse, punishing an employee for reporting harassment, will not be tolerated.”
Pamela Jones, the vice president of marketing at NRP LLC, told McClatchy News that the company is “committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all.”
“We have used this isolated incident as a learning opportunity and will make training available to ensure that our restaurants are a place where all feel welcome and respected,” Jones said in a statement.
The two workers accused of harassing the line cook and the store manager mentioned in the complaint no longer work for the franchise, according to an Applebee’s spokesperson who spoke to McClatchy News.
“At all times, not only during Pride Month, the EEOC is committed to robust enforcement of Title VII’s protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in a statement. “This case also shows that racist slurs and paraphernalia remain a persistent problem that employers should be prepared to address in prompt and effective ways.”
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