A suit filed last week in federal court against the Arby’s restaurant in Atmore and its franchisee, Florida-based Beavers Inc., alleges that a former team leader trainee at the local sandwich shop sexually harassed several teenage female workers over a period of more than three months in 2016.
The legal action was filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of the teens, who claimed the former trainee constantly flirted with them and pressured them to have sexual relations with him from shortly after he was hired in May 2016 until he was terminated in August of that year.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were subjected to “severe, pervasive, unwanted, degrading, and offensive sexual conduct.”
The unnamed former apprentice supervisor allegedly used graphic language and deliberately touched one of the adolescents in an “unwelcome sexual manner” after cornering her in a cooler. The lawsuit further claims that he groped the girls, pressured them to date him, followed some of them home and repeatedly made crude remarks to them during work hours.
He also allegedly asked for hugs or kisses from the employees, showed one of them a picture of his genitalia, and otherwise made “persistent attempts” to pursue sexual relationships with the teens, including the sending of “Facebook and text messages begging [them] to come home with him or let him come home with them.”
The EEOC further contends that the employees — and even some customers — complained of the harassment to supervisors and managers of the local Arby’s, but no action was taken until the intern physically injured one of the victims.
Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said in a press release that employers must go beyond the mere exercise of due diligence in their attempts to stymie such behavior by employees.
“Employers have an obligation to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment, and that obligation is not met solely by having a written policy,” said Rucker.
“Employers must take complaints of sexual harassment seriously and act promptly to stop harassment of their workers.”
The suit — based upon provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — was filed after the EEOC’s Mobile office completed an investigation into the complaints and unsuccessfully tried to reach a settlement with Arby’s and Beavers Inc. before legal action was initiated.
“Federal anti-discrimination laws exist to protect workers from this kind of abuse,” Delner Franklin-Thomas, director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said in a press release. “The EEOC will continue to aggressively pursue remedies for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly young, vulnerable workers.”
Beavers Inc. owns and operates 56 Arby’s restaurants in south Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Company officials had not responded by Tuesday’s press deadline to an emailed request for comment on the suit and its allegations.