Silver Diner Sued by EEOC for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

LEXINGTON, N.C. - A Lexington, N.C., restaurant violated federal law by subjecting a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment, retaliating against her by reducing her work hours and then firing her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, from around June until October 2010, Laura Jones, a waitress at the Silver Diner restaurant, was sexually harassed by the restaurant's male co-owner who was also Jones's supervisor. The suit charged that the harassment included, among other things, comments about her physical appearance including comments that she was "sexy," rubbing up against Jones while she was at work and telling Jones to get rid of her boyfriend if she wanted to advance in her job. The suit further charged that on one occasion, the co-owner forcefully grabbed Jones by the arm and tried to intimidate her into getting rid of her boyfriend.

The EEOC said Jones complained about the harassment to the head waitress and other owners of the restaurant, and that after her complaint, the restaurant began reducing her work hours. According to the EEOC's complaint, around Feb. 14, 2011, Jones complained about reduction in her work hours, and the company fired her.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Silver Diner, Inc.; Civil Action No. 1:12-cv-01002 after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay for Jones along with compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief.

"Under federal law, employees are entitled to work free from unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate sexual comments," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "They are also allowed to complain about harassment without fear of retaliation. The EEOC will be vigilant in protecting the rights of employees to work free from sexual harassment and to complain about unlawful behavior without fear of losing their jobs."