BISMARCK, N.D. – The Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar – Bismarck South, owned and operated by Apple Core, Inc. and Food Management Investors, Inc. (FMI), violated federal civil rights laws by permitting a former store general manager to create a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and retaliation against employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed late yesterday.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, between 2002 and the end of 2007, the general manager of Bismarck South Applebee’s routinely groped female employees, solicited sexual relations, told sexually explicit stories and jokes and made highly personalized sexual comments designed to demean and humiliate female employees. The EEOC’s investigation indicated that on at least one occasion, the harasser coerced an employee into giving him oral sex in exchange for a raise. Additionally, the EEOC’s complaint alleges that the manager systematically retaliated against female employees who rebuffed his sexual advances, and retaliated against both female and male employees who complained about his behavior.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s suit was docketed before Judge Daniel L. Hovland in the Southwestern Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Apple Core, Inc. and Food Management Investors, Inc. d/b/a Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar; Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-00048 DLH/CSM) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court through its conciliation process.
John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, which includes North Dakota, said that the EEOC’s administrative investigation which preceded the lawsuit revealed that the manager provided various employment-related rewards and punishments to female employees, dependent on whether they accepted or rebuffed his sexual advances.
“No one should ever have to endure the abuse that these workers did just to try to make a living,” said Rowe. “It’s uncivilized and unlawful, and the EEOC will never flag in combating such misconduct.”
John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago, said, “It appears from our investigation — and our task will be to prove it in court — that Apple Core/FMI knew about this man’s unlawful behavior, but still allowed him to create a hyper-sexualized, toxic workplace to serve his sexual appetite.”
“At the heart of what EEOC alleges,” Hendrickson added, “is our contention that, despite repeated complaints and warnings about the general manager’s behavior at Applebee’s — year in and year out — this company, which cultivates a wholesome family-friendly,neighborhood image could not bring itself to call a halt to sexual harassment by one of its managers.”
In this case, the EEOC is seeking injunctive relief that will require Apple Core/FMI to adopt an effective sexual harassment prevention policy that complies with federal law and will seek back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the charging parties and a class of approximately 20 former employees of the Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar – Bismarck South.
The EEOC’s lawsuit stems from charges of discrimination that were filed by five former employees of the Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar – Bismarck South, located at 434 South 3rd Street in Bismarck.
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