Daily Archives: March 5, 2013

Workplace sexual harassment still a problem facing women

I was browsing cases in Honolulu’s U.S. District Court when I spotted a couple filed over the past several years by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that suggest the kinds of workplace harassment still faced by women.

One lawsuit, filed in September 2012, alleged a sexually hostile environment for young women existed at the Panda Express in Kapaa, Kauai, and that employees, all 18 or younger, faced “unwelcome sexual conduct by Defendants’ male employees,” including their supervisor.

According to the complaint, the supervisor made “sexually inappropriate comments, including “asking female employees to take off their shirts so he could see their breasts, asking female employees to hold his penis, telling female employees to wear more sexually revealing clothing,” and so on in a similar vein.

The supervisor and another male employee would comment on female employees and customers, “speculating about their sexual activities,” and grab or touch parts of their bodies. Then there was the “mimicking sexual activity with vegetables.”

The women complained to the manager, and to the Oahu office, but conditions didn’t change. Instead, those who complained saw their work hours reduced, and got less favorable assignments, the EEOC alleged.

Panda Express initially denied the allegations, and EEOC was unable to negotiate a settlement of the charges before the lawsuit was filed in court. Last month,though, Panda Express and the EEOC reported reaching an agreement on terms of a consent decree.

Another EEOC suit targeted Señor Frog’s nightclub in Waikiki. EEOC alleged women working at Señor Frog’s were subjected to sexual harassment by the club’s management and high level executives of it’s owner, La Rana Hawaii, LLC. The complaint covered the period from mid-2007 until the club closed in the summer of 2012.

“Management officials, including upper level officials…made inappropriate and offensive sexual comments, sexual advances and demanded sexual intercourse and favors of their female subordinates,” the EEOC charged.

Male managers would regularly demand that bartender Claimants serve them body shots off of the Claimants and female customers. Male management officials would participate in sexual activity with female customers while on duty and in the presence of the Claimants. [One manager] exposed his penis to at least one Claimant. Male managers were routinely encouraging Claimants, many of whom were under the legal drinking age at the time, to drink alcohol with them. Claimants understood that their male managers wanted to get them drunk so the Claimants would participate in sexual activity with the managers. In addition, when high level executives from Senor Frog’s,…would visit the Honolulu location, at least two Claimants were encouraged and even directed to have sex with the high level executives by local Honolulu management for La Rana.

Lawyers for Señor Frog’s have successfully defended against the EEOC’s lawsuit on technical grounds, arguing the agency failed to provide enough specific detail during settlement talks to identify those involved in specific alleged incidents.

Nonetheless, if only a part of what the agency alleges is true, it’s a pretty sad tale.

Of course, EEOC doesn’t take these cases to court very often, so it’s reasonable to believe these are the “worst case” situations.

Eye-opening, for sure.

Food for thought during Women’s History Month.