Two Sonic Franchises Sued By EEOC For Sexual Harassment To Pay $55,000

Teen-aged Female Carhops Were Routinely Abused by Male Managers, Federal Agency Charged

HOUSTON – Two Sonic Drive-In franchises in the Kingwood-Humble area with common ownership and management will pay $55,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that S.D.I. of Kingwood, doing business as the Kingwood Sonic Drive-In, and S.D.I. of Lee Rd., doing business as the Lee Road Sonic Drive-In, violated federal law by routinely subjecting teenaged female employees to abuse by a manager and others, including threatening one young worker with a knife.

The EEOC’s suit said that the franchises’ primary owner promoted a young, unqualified family member to consecutively higher management positions within the restaurants and allowed him to use his position of power to sexually harass the teens starting in 2006. The EEOC also contended that this manager permitted and encouraged other male employees and managers to join in the harassing conduct.

According to the EEOC, Aracely De Leon, a 16-year-old employee, was forced to quit due to harassment by the manager, and another young employee, Elizabeth Maxwell, then age 17, was also subjected to sexually harassing conduct by the manager. The EEOC claimed that, after she rejected his advances, the manager became abusive to Maxwell, even threatening her with a knife in the restaurant’s kitchen. Maxwell was subsequently fired from her job for opposing the illegal conduct, according to the EEOC. The agency also charged that other teenaged female employees were subjected to or witnessed sexual harassment within the workplace.

Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:08-cv-02874 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

The settlement terms of the lawsuit, set forth in a consent decree signed and entered by U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore on June 8, 2010, require the defendants to pay $55,000 in relief to compensate Maxwell, De Leon and other class members for the sexual harassment and retaliation. The decree also contains provisions to ensure that the owner, managers and employees of the two franchises are properly trained to fully comply with employment discrimination laws. In addition, the two defendants are required to develop and implement new policies and procedures for addressing illegal discrimination in the workplace, as well as guidelines for investigating complaints of discrimination. These policies and guidelines must be approved by the EEOC prior to implementation.

“This lawsuit was filed in order to protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable and impressionable workers – teenagers who, often, are newcomers to the workplace,” said Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney. “The unchecked actions of the young manager in this case clearly put young women at risk. This settlement is an important step in ensuring that such workers are able to enter the workplace for the first time without fear of harassment or retaliation.”

Anyone who believes he or she has been subjected to a discriminatory employment practice is encouraged to contact the EEOC’s Houston District Office, which is located in downtown Houston on the seventh floor of the Mickey Leland Federal Building at 1919 Smith Street.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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