Why it matters: As part of its strategic enforcement plan, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has vowed to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. In a recent complaint against Mexican-themed restaurant chain Senor Frog’s, the agency did just that, alleging that harassment in a now-closed Hawaiian location was both “severe” and “rampant,” leading all the way to the owner of the company. The case – and subsequent settlement for $350,000 and injunctive relief – provides an example for employers of how the EEOC is handling sexual harassment claims, one of its stated priorities.

Detailed Discussion

Citing “severe, rampant sexual harassment” of female employees at the Hawaiian branch of Senor Frog’s restaurant, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint against the company and Altres, a local staffing company.

At least nine female employees were “repeatedly bombarded with sexual propositions, explicit sexual remarks, groping, grabbing, and exposure of genital areas by male managers, and even ordered to perform sexual favors for high-level Senor Frog officials,” according to the EEOC, which called the harassment “out of control.”

The owner of the Mexican-themed restaurant chain himself permitted managers at the Honolulu location to engage in the “widespread sexual harassment,” the agency charged, adding that female servers and bartenders also suffered with regard to promotions and earnings as compared to their male counterparts.

Altres, hired by Senor Frog’s to provide human resources services and oversee non-management staff, was also responsible for the hostile work environment as a joint employer, the agency said.

When the conciliation process failed, the agency filed suit.

“We are troubled by the increase of sexual harassment cases and companies continuing to fail to take this problem seriously,” Anna Y. Park, a regional attorney for the EEOC, said in a press release about the lawsuit. The agency later amended its complaint to add additional plaintiffs, bringing the total to 13 female employees making allegations over a five-year period from 2007 to 2012, including retaliation for complaining about the alleged harassment.

To settle the charges of violating Title VII, the restaurant chain agreed to pay $350,000 and injunctive relief. Although the Honolulu location at issue closed in August 2012, Senor Frog’s agreed that if it re-opens that restaurant or another in Hawaii, the company will create and distribute an anti-harassment policy and implement annual training for all employees.

For $150,000 and a promise to provide training for all employees, Altres reached a separate agreement with the agency.