U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued the following announcement on Sept. 21.
Phoenix restaurant Francisco Fine Foods LLC, doing business as Mariscos Altata, agreed to pay $220,000 and furnish other relief to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced. The EEOC charged the restaurant with severe sexual harassment, age discrimination, and retaliation against a group of women.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, female employees of Mariscos Altata were subjected to sexual harassment including unwanted touching, grabbing, fondling, sexual comments, requests for sex, and other unlawful conduct since at least February 2011. The lawsuit additionally charged that Mariscos Altata subjected an employee to harassment based on her age, including comments that she was a "worthless old lady" and coworkers ridiculing her by taking bets on her age. Mariscos Altata also retaliated against women who refused to comply with sexual demands, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination and retaliation, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees over the age of 40. The EEOC filed suit, EEOC v. Francisco's Fine Foods, LLC d/b/a Mariscos Altata, Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-00945- JJT in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona after first attempting to reach a settlement through its pre-litigation conciliation process. The lawsuit sought back pay and compensatory and punitive damages as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discrimination in the future.
Under the four-and-a-half-year consent decree settling the lawsuit, which was signed by federal District Court Judge John J. Tuchi , Mariscos Altata is ordered to revise its employment policies in consultation with an outside consultant. The company must also establish a robust system for employees to report harassment, discrimination, and retaliation; post an anti-discrimination notice; evaluate managers based on their compliance with EEO laws; and train its managers and employees on the law and Marisco Altata's policies against discrimination. The restaurant also agreed to terminate the alleged harasser and never rehire him. Mariscos Altata will also send letters of apology to all of the women affected by the harassment and retaliation.
"Unfortunately, sexual harassment continues to be an epidemic in many workplaces, including restaurants," said the EEOC's Phoenix District Office regional attorney, Mary Jo O'Neill. "It is clearly unacceptable and illegal misconduct. No employee should ever be subjected to such degrading and abusive behavior in order to make a living to support herself and her family. Employers who fail to protect vulnerable employees from predatory abuse should know that the EEOC will step in to stop it."
Elizabeth Cadle, district director of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, added, "Employees who stand up for themselves should never fear adverse employment actions as a result. Unfortunately, over 45 percent of charges to the EEOC involve allegations of retaliation - the most common type of discrimination charge. Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from sexual harassment and retaliation."
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