Burger King recently settled a sexual harassment case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of 89 female employees.
The lawsuit accused restaurant managers of engaging in unwelcome verbal and physical sexual conduct toward female employees, many of whom were teenagers at the time. The EEOC also alleged that the company failed to take appropriate remedial action in response to complaints and that it retaliated against complaining employees. Burger King entered into the no-fault settlement to avoid the cost of further litigation.
Along with a $2.5 million monetary payment, Burger King agreed to conduct harassment prevention training for all levels of employees and to update its anti-harassment policy. The company will also establish a toll-free hotline and email address dedicated to filing sexual harassment complaints, conduct an audit of human resources practices at various locations, and revise its manager evaluation forms to include a rating on EEO compliance.
The settlement illustrates the concept of vicarious liability. Employers are responsible for the actions or inactions of their supervisors and managers. Even if the employer has an anti-harassment policy in place prohibiting certain conduct, it will still be liable for a supervisor’s or manager’s actions that are inconsistent with that policy. Employers should vet applicants for positions of authority well and provide periodic harassment prevention training to those individuals.