Lawsuit filed by the EEOC, the State of Vermont, a Plaintiff-Intervenor, and the estate of one of the victims & settled for $1,475.000 in lost wages and compensatory damages
Vermont-based franchisee of ten McDonald’s restaurants, Coughlin, Inc, agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the State of Vermont, a Plaintiff-Intervenor, and the Estate of Jennie Lumbra. The lawsuit alleged that female employees, mostly teenagers, at the Randolph, Vermont McDonald’s location were subjected to a hostile work environment by a male night shift manager. It was alleged that he touched them inappropriately, hit and groped their genitals, breasts, and buttocks, and subjected them to sexually explicit derogatory comments and threats of physical harm. After complaining, one employee was retaliated against by revoking her disability-related reasonable accommodation and forcing her to quit.
EEOC filed the lawsuit after attempting a pre-litigation settlement through the conciliation process. The other parties filed suit shortly after the EEOC. Coughlin entered into a five-year consent decree and agreed to pay $1,475,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages to be distributed to female employees of the restaurant, as well as, the Estate of Jennie Lumbra, who were subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation. Coughlin will also pay $125,000 to the State of Vermont in civil penalties.
Along with the financial payout, the decree provides for an injunction prohibiting future discrimination; extensive anti-discrimination and harassment training, revisions to the company’s policies and procedures; hiring of an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the decree, and mandatory reporting of all complaints of sex discrimination and/or retaliation to the EEOC for five years.
Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for EEOC’s New York District, said, “Protecting vulnerable workers in the fast-food industry is a strategic enforcement priority for our district. The mostly teenage employees working at this McDonald’s location were particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and retaliation. The EEOC is committed to vigorously enforcing anti-discrimination laws on behalf of all restaurant industry workers.”
This is an unusual situation that could have been resolved prior to the lawsuit filed by multiple governmental organizations and private parties. Due to the company’s failure to properly investigate the claims of discrimination or retaliation or agree to a pre-suit conciliation settlement, they are paying approximately $1.5 million in lost wages and compensatory damages, civil penalties to the state and will incur the expense of hiring an independent monitor, design and conduct training, revise policies and procedures and report to the EEOC for the next five years.
It is imperative that all complaints of discrimination get the proper attention and immediate investigation with the goal of resolution. EEOC has information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination at their Youth@Work website.