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.

4 responses to “Workplace sexual harassment still a problem facing women

  1. Can’t say a whole lot about Panda Express, but I can tell you that being female and working in a bar with a bunch of drunks… well, unfortunately you can’t expect any better behavior; it’s routine in many establishments that cater to relaxed inhibitions, sorry to say.

    I am not speaking out of speculation but from experience – having worked in 3 bars/2 bar-restaurants in my (long-ago) lifetime, both (just) underage and of (barely) legal age.

    If you’re female & go to work in bar, basically you can expect no respect.

  2. It is not just bars and restaurants. Recently our dept at the University of Hawaii required all employees to undergo harassment awareness training. We were presented with a few case studies that were based on actual cases at UH. I was shocked that these types of things are still happening in an academic environment. Speaking with other females in my dept, I was sad to hear that they have to deal with complaints on a regular basis. The harassment cases weren’t always sexual in nature, but were definitely an abuse of supervisory power, e.g. threats of not graduating, etc, unless said person did what their supervisor wanted.
    At least some departments at UH are being proactive by making sure employees undergo awareness training.

  3. Any business that tolerates this behavior has no sense of just how costly it could prove to be, not to mention how stupid and immoral such behavior is.

    They are exposing themselves and their company to the possibility of paying a multi-million dollar awards if the plaintiffs are successful in their sexual harassment suits. The size of the punitive damages awarded in some of these cases is startling.

  4. ohiaforest3400

    My former (now retired) was a major creep when it came to touching female employees in the guise of “massage” after a long day. We would tell new female employees to be sure to arrange theior office furniture to keep him on the opposite side and/or to never be in an enclosed space alone with him. Sad. All the sexual harassment trainings in the world did nothing . No one ever sued because he was so pathetic (altho’ extremely uji) and, in any event, there are no punitive damage awards against the State.

    I don’t think all the EEOC training in the world will cure Faye Hanohano of her real problem which, like sexual harassment, is the abuse of power.

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