The EEOC has been settling lawsuits at a frenzied pace of late, some for the monetary equivalent of peanuts.
This week, the EEOC settled for $1 million a sexual harassment case filed against IHOP restaurants in New Mexico that are owned and operated by Fahim Adi. The EEOC says the case is the second-largest litigation settlement ever reached by the EEOC’s Albuquerque Area Office. An EEOC press release says: “At least 22 women are expected to receive relief through the decree.”
If it is only 22 women and they split full amount of the award equally among themselves – without any deductions by the EEOC for fees and costs – they will each get about $45,454.
I submit that this is not a large amount of money for women – some were teenage girls – whom the EEOC says were subjected to sexually offensive conduct by Lee Broadnax, then manager of the defendant’s IHOP restaurant. The EEOC doesn’t go into details but says Broadnax’ illegal conduct included sexual comments, innuendo and unwanted touching (i.e., otherwise known as battery).
Some of the women were forced to quit their jobs because IHOP did nothing when they complained. People who work as servers at a pancake house generally are not well-to–do and this is not an economy where jobs are easy to find. Some of the victims were pretty college girls en route to a better future but others were mature women (including several members of a minority group).
One wonders how many IHOP employees were forced to tolerate abuse because they had children to feed at home and no other options?
The figure of $1 million particularly pales when one considers the IHOP brand is owned by Dine Equity, Inc., which is based in Glendale, California and also owns the Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar brand.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News magazine, Dine Equity had $7.9 billion in food service sales in 2011, making it the ninth rranked in the United States for “systemwide foodservice sale.” For the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2012, DineEquity’s net income almost quadrupled to $58.7 million. DineEquity operates almost entirely through subsidiaries and over 400 franchisees, which operate 1,842 Applebee restaurants and 1,535 IHOPs around the world.
Dine Equity vigorously enforces any encroachment upon the the IHOP brand. One wuld hope that Dine Equity also would vigorously enforce the human rights of employees in IHOP and Applebee restaurants. What could Dine Equity do? For one thing, Dine Equity could train franchisors to follow discrimination laws and respond appropriately to complaints. Dine Equity also could get rid of franchisors that tolerate hostile work environments and fail to respond to discrimination complaints. Now that would get their attention!
Don’t get me wrong. If the EEOC had not taken on this case, it is quite possible that some of these victims would not have gotten anything at all (except, possibly Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). Courts seem to be utterly unsympathetic to victims of employment-related discrimination these days, which is probably why it is so prevalent in society. Poor people can’t afford to hire lawyers and pay court costs. But lets get real – $1 million is not exactly a windfall for people who likely suffered emotional trauma and stress and whose lives were completley upended by an IHOP franchisor.
In addition to the monetary relief, the decree prohibits the defendants’ IHOP restaurants from further discriminating or retaliating against its employees and requires IHOP to implement policies and practices that will provide its employees a work environment free of sex discrimination and retaliation. The defendants must also provide its employees in Bernalillo and Sandoval County IHOPs with anti-discrimination training and notice of the settlement.
In this case, the IHOP franchisor ignored the women’s sexual harassment complaints. Training cannot solve an employer’s lack of motivation to protect its workers from sex discrimination.