Recently, the International House of Pancakes made headlines over the news it was changing its names to International House of Burgers or IHOB. That was a publicity stunt, but it’s probably not a coincidence the announcement of the phony name change occurred about the same time as that of two Illinois IHOP franchisees paying $975,000 to settle an EEOC sexual harassment lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in September 2017, against IHOP franchisees in Glen Carbon and Alton, both owned by Khalid Ramadan, whose brother Rami serves as general manager and is accused of sexual harassment. According to the lawsuit, employees, some of them teenagers, were routinely sexually harassed by managers and coworkers at these IHOPs.
The harassment included sexual comments, as well as threats, along with groping. One management employee tried to force a worker to perform oral sex on him. A male worker said the general manager at his IHOP – not Ramadan – tried to grab his crotch and buttocks on several occasions.
As per the consent decree, 16 harassment victims will receive compensatory damages. The franchisees must provide its employees with sexual harassment training and establish policies and procedures for investigating worker sexual harassment complaints.
The EEOC will continue to monitor the restaurants over the next four years to determine whether harassment is occurring. The EEOC has also filed lawsuits against owners of seven other IHOP franchises in New York and Las Vegas, Nevada, which are still pending.
Earlier this year, the EEOC reached a $340,000 settlement with Indi’s Fast Food Restaurant, Inc., a local chain restaurant based in Louisville, Kentucky. Managers at four Indi’s restaurants sexually harassed female employees, some of them teenagers, making sexually explicit comments and asking for sexual favors.
Unwanted sexual touching was also involved. Under this consent decree, the managers must also send letters of apology to each victim. In a statement, the EEOC trial attorney said, “Protecting vulnerable workers, including low-wage earners and teenagers, is a top priority for the EEOC. We hope this case sends a clear message that the EEOC will hold accountable employers who fail to protect their employees from workplace harassment.”
While news reports over the past year have focused on the sexual harassment of women in film and media, the industry with the most persistent sexual harassment issues is that of accommodation and food services.
The downfall of top chefs for sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg, but the problems of high-end restaurants pale with the types of harassment endured by workers employed by fast food and chain restaurants. Because many of these workers are young and all are low wage, they are indeed especially vulnerable.
They need their jobs and are easily replaced, so they are more hesitant to make a claim or feel such a claim won’t change anything. IHOP along with Applebee’s, are the chains with the largest number of federal sexual harassment lawsuits filed against them. Although the chains differ, the language in the lawsuits is depressingly familiar.
Women claim they were expected to just put up with groping and sexual requests from coworkers as part of their job. “Put up with it,” is what some women say are the exact words used by supervisors when they complained -- if they were not just ignored altogether.
While IHOP and Applebee’s may appear as the worst offenders, that may prove possible because employees at other chains must sign arbitration agreements, so they cannot sue but must go to arbitration to resolve disputes.
Some of the most common restaurant chains make workers sign such agreements, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Hooters, and the Waffle House. Interestingly, a California corporation, DineEquity, owns both Applebee’s and IHOP, but it is not named as a defendant.
DineEquity released a statement regarding the lawsuit allegations: “Harassment of all nature has no place in any organization, including those affiliated with DineEquity. Our brands, Applebee’s Grill + Bar and IHOP, and each of their franchisees is committed to a professional, safe, and positive working environment for all.
Both brands are 100 percent franchised and all 3,700 restaurants nationwide are owned and operated by entrepreneurs dedicated to serving their communities. Each franchisee establishes and adheres to their own strict policies against harassment in the workplace. Our organization and franchisees are fiercely committed to maintaining a safe and empowering environment for all team members.” Perhaps – but it may take a few more million dollar settlements before all the franchises are on board with protecting the safety of “team members.”
Do you think were harassed at work or by a co-worker? Visit our workplace harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.)