Diversity & Inclusion, HR Management & Compliance

Despite Crisis, EEOC Continues to Resolve North Carolina Cases

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) temporarily stopped issuing right-to-sue notices on charges that had been filed. The pause was recently lifted, and the notices are coming out again.

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The pause didn’t apply to resolutions of EEOC litigation, and we’ve recently seen some new settlements of cases filed by the agency in North Carolina. They shed light on the types of cases the agency is pursuing and the resolutions they are achieving.

Fast-Food Harassment

Par Ventures, Inc., a North Carolina corporation that operates a chain of seven McDonald’s fast-food restaurants, will pay $12,500 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The agency had charged the company with violating federal law when it subjected a teenaged female employee to a sexually hostile work environment.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a male “people manager” at Par Ventures’ Parmlee Drive McDonald’s in Fayetteville sexually harassed the employee, who was only 16 years old at the time. The agency claimed she was subjected to sexual comments, sexual requests, and unwanted touching from her male supervisor. The complaint alleged the supervisor offered her money for nude pictures of herself, asked her explicit sexual questions, and ultimately sexually assaulted her.

In addition to a payment of $12,500 in monetary relief for the alleged discrimination victim, the parties entered into a 5-year consent decree settling the lawsuit that requires Par Ventures to:

  • Revise its sexual harassment policy;
  • Post a notice about the lawsuit and employee rights under federal antidiscrimination laws;
  • Conduct annual training for all employees on (1) the requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its prohibition against workplace sexual harassment and (2) the company’s sexual harassment policy; and
  • Report all employee complaints about sex-based conduct or comments to the EEOC.

Adult Store Agrees to Pay

The Raleigh holding company behind adult-themed retailer Adam & Eve has agreed to pay a settlement because it denied multiple men employment based on their gender.

The EEOC sued Raleigh-based Sactacular Holdings last year, accusing it of refusing to even call Christopher Kilby in for an interview when he applied for a sales position at the Capital Boulevard Adam & Eve store in Raleigh. To settle the case, the company will pay $35,000. Of that amount, $22,776.25 will go to Kilby. Other claimants identified by the agency will split the difference.

According to the complaint, a female employee told Kilby Adam & Eve “does not hire men for sales floor (sales associate) positions.”

According to an agreement for a settlement filed that will likely be approved in federal court, in addition to settlement payments, Sactacular has agreed to “not discriminate against any person on the basis of sex or any other protected category . . . including by failing to hire qualified male applicants.”

Sactacular also will consider male and female job applicants for all open positions based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory criteria. The settlement decree also requires the company to engage in training for its managers and employees on Title VII’s requirements.

Bottom Line

There are two sides to every story. The companies involved surely have different versions of the events alleged in the lawsuits. Even if the company feels strongly it hasn’t done anything wrong, however, there can be pressure to resolve a matter just to avoid defense costs and the uncertainty that comes with any litigation. Every case is unique, but the cases show examples of what litigation the EEOC is pursuing and what monetary amounts it takes to resolve them.

Richard Rainey is an attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can reach him at richard.rainey@wbd-us.com.

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