The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Finger-Lickin' Good Results For Harassed KFC-Taco Bell Workers

A local fast food franchise settled a class-action sexual harassment case late last month, ending years of alleged harassment, legal battles with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and of course, terrible jokes. According to the EEOC, they reached a settlement agreement with Mendota Restaurants, Inc., of Mendota, Ill.

The company runs a franchised Taco Bell/KFC on Route 34. They also allegedly enabled over a year's worth of sexual harassment that included multiple sexual assaults. At least five of the women complained to the local police before this lawsuit was filed on behalf of twelve victims. The store manager at fault reportedly also stooped to retaliation by discharging or constructively discharging those who complained.

Constructive discharge is legalese for forcing someone to quit by making their life a living hell. Instead of outright firing an employee, often employers will retaliate by assigning that employee difficult or dangerous jobs, or by having other employees harass the employee to make the workplace intolerable. Under the law, if constructive termination is proven, it is tantamount to wrongful termination.

In addition to paying $150,000 to the twelve victims, Mendota Restaurants has also agreed to a three-year consent decree which prohibits the restaurant from engaging in further abusive behavior (obviously) and requires the appointment of an outside monitor to ensure that any future harassment complaints are dealt with appropriately and that employees and managers are trained in dealing with and preventing harassment.

Consent decrees are essentially legal promises to comply with a series of conditions on a settlement. While the EEOC does care about obtaining a financial recovery for the abused employees, they also care about prevention of future episodes. After all, it shouldn't be as easy as paying off the current victims and allowing further harassment down the line. If the company fails to comply with the consent decree, the EEOC can go to court and ask for additional sanctions, or for an extension of the decree.

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