Dairy Queen Franchisee to Pay $17,500 to Settle Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - YS&J Enterprises, Inc., which operates a Dairy Queen restaurant in Winston-Salem's Hanes Mall, will pay $17,500 and furnish significant remedial relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit (EEOC v. YS&J Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Dairy Queen, Civil Action No. 1:11 CV 01103), from approximately late March 2009 through Aug. 23, 2009, when she was fired, 18-year-old Chastity Hill-Cox was subjected to harassment based on her sex by a male cashier. The EEOC contends that the harassment consisted of the cashier talking explicitly about his sexual encounters, and making sexual gestures in which he simulated sex acts. The lawsuit further alleges that the male cashier called Hill-Cox offensive gender-based epithets such as "b---h," "c--t" and "p---y" on a frequent basis. Hill-Cox complained about the harassment to the restaurant manager, but the harassment did not stop. According to the lawsuit, Hill-Cox, who was at work, and her mother called the Winston-Salem police to report the harassment. The suit further claims that while the police were present at the restaurant responding to Hill-Cox's complaint, the manager fired Hill-Cox, stating that Hill-Cox was "causing too many problems" for the company.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to paying the $17,500 in damages to Hill-Cox, the company is enjoined from further subjecting employees to discrimination based on their sex, or from retaliating against employees for opposing such discrimination. The company has agreed to redistribute its policy prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation to managers and supervisors; conduct anti-discrimination training for managers and supervisors; post a notice about the settlement; and report internal sexual harassment and/or retaliation complaints to the EEOC.

"Sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable, especially when it involves young and vulnerable victims," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District. "Further, employers are liable when they fail to address harassment once they have knowledge that such behavior is occurring, and cannot fire employees who complain. We are pleased with this resolution."

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Tina Burnside added, "Employers have a clear legal duty under federal law to respond to discrimination complaints and ensure that the unlawful conduct stops. And no one should ever be fired in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment."

The EEOC recently updated its Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/), which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. The website also contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the work force.