While the majority of sexual harassment cases involve men intimidating women, the roles are sometimes reversed. That is the case with a recent settlement involving fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle. A then-22-year old male manager at a San Jose outlet, Austin Melton, endured pervasive sexual harassment from his female boss.
After reporting her behavior to management, the situation escalated – he was subject to retaliation, including being locked in a walk-in freezer and having his motorcycle moved from the parking lot.
Melton contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the agency filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Chipotle. In early December, the company agreed to settle the lawsuit for $95,000 and will implement more anti-sexual harassment procedures and policies in its San Francisco Bay restaurants. Nationwide, Chipotle employs approximately 73,000 workers across more than 2,500 restaurants.
What is especially disturbing about this situation is that Chipotle always touted itself as a forward-thinking organization. Its marketing materials refer to “serving food with integrity,” but ignoring claims of sexual harassment, and then retaliating against the complainant gets as far away from integrity as possible.
Melton’s supervisor constantly harassed him, both physically and verbally. She propositioned him and his girlfriend for sex and frequently touched him. This included groping his groin and buttocks on various occasions.
The EEOC suit alleges the female supervisor kept a scoreboard in the restaurant’s office, detailing staff sexual activities. How did she keep score? Apparently, by asking employees whether they had sex the night before.
In this day and age, it is mind-boggling to realize management would look the other way at such actions, but they did. Although Melton needed the job to support himself and his girlfriend, the lack of response from management and continued harassment eventually led to his quitting.
First Post-High School Job
The stint at Chipotle was Melton’s first job after high school. Understandably, he found it difficult initially to talk to management about the harassment, let along report it to the EEOC. He realized, however, that it “was the right thing to do,” and hopes his ordeal will make other restaurant workers safer. The $95,000 settlement pays Melton’s lost wages, as well as compensatory damages. As Melton’s attorney notes, no one should have to put up with conditions he faced simply to receive a paycheck.
Roughly 16 percent of EEOC harassment complaints involve male employees. There is no excuse for taking such allegation less seriously simply because the victim is a man. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is prohibited no matter the gender.
Then there is the youth issue. The EEOC reports that young people are far more vulnerable to sexual harassment than older workers. This is partly because, like Melton, many of these individuals are in the workplace for the first time, and unaware of workplace norms.
Teens and young adults may lack self-confidence in challenging harassing behavior by older or supervisory employees. One way to combat this is by supplying information on sexual harassment to all new workers, and ensure management is well-informed regarding the law.
Do you think you 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.)