An upscale New York City steakhouse has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle charges by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that managers sexually harassed 22 male waiters over an almost eight-year period.
The EEOC's case against Sparks Steak House highlights a growing EEOC trend - going after instances of male-on-male sexual harassment.
According to the EEOC complaint against Sparks, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2009, misconduct by managers included “regularly grabbing or pinching male employees’ buttocks and/or pushing their penises against employees’ buttocks and attempting to grab the genital areas of male employees.” According to the EEOC, many of the waiters complained, but the behavior did not stop.
"The EEOC is serious about upholding the law, which includes protection against same-sex harassment," said Charles Coleman, Jr., lead trial attorney on the case for the EEOC in a news release. "When an employer fails to address harassment and responds by retaliating against the victims, it compounds the violation. We believe this is a fair resolution."
Sparks, which was represented by Allan Taffet and Chad Naso of Duval & Stachenfeld, denied the allegations and did not admit to wrongdoing or liability.
Also, the primary alleged harasser, the floor maitre'd, was not fired. According to the settlement, he was given “a final written warning that [the restaurant] will terminate his employment if it receives any future substantiated complaints of sexual harassment.”
The restaurant in a motion for partial summary judgment that was pending when the case settled also claimed that the EEOC “did not carry out any investigation with regard to the claims” of 21 out of 22 alleged victims. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit gutted the EEOC’s massive sexual harassment suit against an Iowa trucking company for failure to investigate claims.
In fiscal year 2011, 16 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment charges were filed by men, compared to 12 percent in 1997.
Though the EEOC statistics do not detail whether the alleged harasser was male or female, the agency reports that “anecdotally, many of the charges appear to involve same sex harassment.”
In October, the EEOC sued Roy Farms in Eastern Washington, alleging that the grower violated federal law by allowing a supervisor to sexually harass male laborers. According to the EEOC, the manager touched workers in “a sexual manner and asked them to look at him while he urinated in public.”
A case is ongoing against Pitre, Inc., a car dealership in Albuquerque, N.M., where a male worker was allegedly encouraged by management to sexually harass his male colleagues. The men were allegedly touched, grabbed and bitten on their buttocks and penises.