A Minnesota custard stand and its owner settled allegations that the owner sexually harassed a 14 year old female employee. Although the settlement was minimal, it demonstrates that young adults have important rights in the workplace. Whether you are a child or an adult, sexual harassment is never acceptable.
According to a Minnesota Department of Human Rights press release, an investigation by the state of Red Cabin Custard found probable cause that William Chalmers, the 61-year-old owner of the custard stand, "used his position of authority to subject a then-14-year-old girl to unwanted touching, graphic sexual innuendos, and sexual depictions of genitals in 2015."
Under the terms of the settlement, the company will pay a small fine, the owner will undergo sexual harassment training and the state will monitor the business for the next 4 years to ensure compliance. The company was allowed to settle without an admission of wrongdoing.
According to the complaint, Chalmers primarily hires young, teenage females to work in his custard shop. In the summer of 2015, “Lorna” and a relative, “MF”, applied to work at Red Cabin Custard. Both were hired. It was Lorna’s first job and he had just turned 14. (MF was 15 years old.)
Unfortunately for Lorna, her first job soon became a nightmare. She said that Chalmers made daily lewd and sexual comments about females. According to the state’s complaint,
“Chalmers… frequently referred to females using the words ‘tits’ and ‘ass’. For example, he would point to female customers who were eating at the picnic tables or walking by… and comment on their breasts. Chalmers made comments about female customers, such as ‘she’s got big tits’ or ‘she’s got small tits,’ and encouraged his employees, including [Lorna] to look at the woman he was describing. Chalmers made [Lorna] uncomfortable.”
He also made comments about female vaginas using words like “big bushes” and “hairy.”
Like so many cases we have investigated, as time went on, Chalmers’ behavior allegedly became worse. He even made comments about wanting to “fuck” an underage employee. He also made a sexual comment about a seven or eight year old customer.
Finally two months into her first summer job, Lorna had enough. She told her mother what was happening at work and that she simply felt too uncomfortable to continue. MF also complained to her mother.
According to the state’s complaint,
“[Lorna] suffered significant mental anguish and suffering and emotional distress as a result of Chalmers’ sexually harassing behavior and the hostile environment he created at Red Cabin Custard. [Lorna] was merely fourteen years-old and had no prior professional work experience before working at Red Cabin Custard. She had wanted to keep her job throughout the summer but could no longer tolerate working for Chalmers in the sexualized and hostile working environment he created at Red Cabin Custard.”
Shortly thereafter, MF also quit and both girls complained to the local police.
Chalmers denies the allegations. His lawyer said the settlement was nothing more than a nuisance settlement.
Can a Child Sue for Sexual Harassment?
Lorna says she pursued the case because “I felt it was my duty as a young girl with a voice to fight for girls without voices, the girls that have been too scared to report, the girls that haven’t been listened to. My former boss and bosses like him need to know that they do not have the power to stifle my voice nor any other young girls when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Lorna is certainly our hero of the day. Even though the settlement with the state was minimal, we are elated to see that a 14 year old girl stood up for herself and other food service restaurants.
Sexual harassment is rampant in the service industry. Many servers need their jobs and are therefore too afraid to complain. Others don’t even know how to complain.
For many kids, working in food service is their first job. These folks are especially vulnerable because they simply lack the workplace experiences and don’t fully understand what is acceptable and what isn’t.
The settlement in this case was admittedly low. We weren’t involved in the case or the settlement which was negotiated by the state. Despite the low recovery, we are aware of other sexual harassment settlements and jury awards in the food service industry that were in the millions of dollars.
Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry
Nearly 90 percent of women in the food service industry say they’ve been harassed. They’re not alone. A whopping 70 percent of men working in restaurants also report some form of sex harassment in the workplace.
Restaurant workers should not feel like they have to stay silent. Sexual harassment is never acceptable no matter where it occurs.
Advocates from across the service industry have been working to change the culture and get laws passed that would protect workers in the future, but that doesn’t help people who’ve already been mistreated.
But there is good news. Sexual harassment is against the law. There are legal ramifications for restaurant owners and managers who engage in this type of behavior. Especially when the victims are young teenagers.
Our team and network of experienced sexual harassment lawyers are eager to help you hold wrongdoers accountable, whether it’s your manager or a big international corporation. We work on a percentage of the winnings – so if you’re a victim, you don’t have to be a certain age, come from a certain background, or have a big bank account to make things right.
To learn more, visit our restaurant and hospitality workers sexual harassment information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 877.858.8018.
All inquiries protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential. We consider cases nationwide.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash