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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a harassment lawsuit against Smashburger, a nation-wide chain of fast food restaurants.  The EEOC filed its complaint alleging Smashburger created a hostile work environment based on race when it discovered the general manager at one of the chain’s Long Island restaurants made racist and demeaning comments to a black employee as well as his fiancée who also worked at the restaurant.  According to the complaint, the general manager subjected the black employee to abusive treatment on a regular basis and often told his white fiancée that she should break up with him because he is black.  Despite reporting the harassment to management, including the District Manager, Smashburger took nearly a year before conducting a serious investigation, and then only took corrective action after the employee filed a charge with the EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, which includes subjecting employees to a racially hostile work environment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Icon Burger Acquisition, LLC d/b/a Smashburger, Civil Action No. 2:20-cv-01601) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its informal mediation process.

The EEOC is seeking compensation for past and future monetary losses the employee may have experienced as well as for emotional pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, among other things.  The EEOC is also seeking punitive damages against Smashburger.

The EEOC’s New York District Acting Director, Judy Keenan, stated, “The law is clear that employers have a responsibility to ensure their workplaces are free from unlawful harassment, which includes making sure that all levels of management know how to promptly and appropriately address problematic conduct when it is reported.”

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT :

This case is an important reminder that employers have an obligation to act promptly and effectively when they learn of harassment in the workplace. All levels of management should be trained to know how to promptly and appropriately address problematic conduct when it is reported.  The potential consequences could be costly.  If you have questions about how to handle reports of harassment in the workplace, contact the experts at The Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated.

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