A Red Lobster Franchisee, GMRI, Inc., has been charged in a lawsuit alleging pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination at its Salisbury, MD location, in violation of federal law. The Philadelphia Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) district office in Pennsylvania is bringing the claim. The EEOC is a federal agency charged with handling employment discrimination and other employee rights matters involving federal discrimination laws.
The lawsuit has been filed as a class action, involving Valerie Serman, Rachael Cox, and a class of similarly situated female employees, who have endured discrimination in the form of longstanding sexual harassment at the hands of the restaurant’s culinary manager. The accusation against the manager include grabbing and groping of female employees, rubbing his groin against them, and making numerous vulgar remarks regarding the bodies of female employees and about his genitals.
The federal law in question is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an historic 1964 law that offered broad protections for then under protected classes of people, most notably African Americans. Title VII of this law regards discrimination in the work place, and protects employees and potential employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Title VII does not simply prohibit employment discrimination and harassment. Employees who feel they are being discriminated against by fellow employees must first take steps to resolve the issue through any means made available by the employer. This means complaining to upper management and the Human Resources department. Only if no action is taken by management can discrimination be alleged.
Such was the case with Serman, who states she complained to her general manager about the harassment. The general manager not only did nothing to remedy the discrimination, the EEOC also charges him with also making vulgar and sexually charged remarks about female employees. Accordingly, the EEOC attorney believes Red Lobster failed to take prompt action to stop the sexual harassment despite the blatant perversity of the comments.
In addition to Title VII, many states have local discrimination and harassment laws that individuals can utilize for lawsuits. In New Jersey there is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). This law provides slightly broader protections than Title VII. In addition to protecting against discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, NJLAD also protects those who are discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability. State laws may only expand upon protections offered by Title VII’s federal minimums.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit for Serman and company in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division (EEOC v. GMRI, Inc., d/b/a Red Lobster, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-02860-MJG). Administrative actions through the Philadelphia EEOC, which often settle discrimination matters in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, without the need for legal action, did not result in settlement, prompting attorneys representing the commission to file the complaint. Attorneys at the commission seek injunctive relief prohibiting the Red Lobster from engaging in sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as punitive and compensatory damages for Serman, Cox, and the class of female employees and other affirmative relief.
EEOC Regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence feels strongly about the need to hold employers responsible for their workplace environment, and channels her passion into her representation. “When companies tolerate sexual harassment, everyone loses,” she stated. “This lawsuit illustrates yet again that when employers abdicate their responsibility to maintain a workplace free from sexual harassment, then the EEOC will take action to protect employees from unrelenting harassment committed and condoned by management officials.”
Director of Philadelphia EEOC, Spencer H. Lewis, agrees with their attorney, saying “no employee should have to endure severe or pervasive sexual harassment in order to earn a living.” His office’s jurisdiction includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delware, and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
Swartz Swidler, attorneys who represent clients in discrimination and other employment law matters, fight for individuals in similar state and federal lawsuits against employers who violate the rights of their employees., Swartz Swidler vigorously pursues matters on behalf of individuals who have been wrongfully terminated due to race, sex, age, and other legal protected factors.