What Teen Workers Need to Know About Sexual Harassment
Company forced to pay $150,000 to settle lawsuit by underage employees
Younger workers may be especially vulnerable to harassment or other unlawful treatment at work.
Reason: Some coworkers or supervisors may try to take advantage of the fact that teenage employees lack experience in the workforce and may not be aware of their rights.
However, younger workers, who may be accustomed to showing deference to teachers, parents, and other authority figures, should be aware that they don’t have to put up with feeling unsafe or sexually vulnerable at work.
Let’s take a look at a recent sexual harassment court case involving teenage employees and then discuss what it means to younger workers.
Manager targeted young female employees
Hillcrest Marshall, a company that owns multiple Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in New York, recently found itself under federal scrutiny.
Several young female employees, including some who were still in their teens, complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about inappropriate sexual behavior by their manager, Luis Zhanay.
Over a period of several years, Zhanay allegedly made sexual advances toward multiple female workers, including Tiffany Harris.
Harris, who was 18 at the time she began working for the restaurant chain, claims that Zhanay aggressively pursued her, forced himself on her, and assaulted her when she refused his advances.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Zhanay repeatedly asked Harris out on dates. She ignored his initial requests. However, he became more insistent and bragged of having the authority to discipline employees who didn’t follow his orders. Harris says that she felt pressured to accept Zhanay’s invitations, but brought along another coworker so she didn’t have to be alone with him.
During the outings, the women state that Zhanay aggressively propositioned them, and Harris claims that he attempted to rip off her shirt.
Following that incident, Zhanay repeatedly ordered Harris to count inventory in the store basement. He would then follow her downstairs and attempt to force himself on her.
Harris says that Zhanay also showed her nude photos of another female employee, who was supposedly romantically involved with an upper level manager.
After Harris told Zhanay that she would no longer tolerate his advances, she says that he became violent. He alleged screamed at her, pushed her, and hit her.
Harris filed a police report. She also contacted the franchise owners, who directed her to file a complaint with a manager – unfortunately, that happened to be the manager who was allegedly responsible for the nude photos of Harris’s coworker. The manager listened to Harris’s complaint but stated that he did not believe her. He ended the conversation by telling Harris that she was terminated.
Harris and several other coworkers complained to the EEOC. The agency sued on the women’s behalf.
Rather than have to defend the manager’s conduct in front a jury, the company decided to settle the lawsuit. It must pay the women $150,000. It also had to agree to fire Zhanay.
(For more information, see EEOC v. Hillcrest Marshall.)
Don’t be silent if you’re uncomfortable
If you’re a teen worker, it’s important to be aware that sexual harassment doesn’t just refer to bodily contact. For example, attempts to draw you into conversation about sexually charged topics, comments about your appearance, or being asked to view pornography may be considered harassment in certain circumstances.
The bottom line: If you feel uncomfortable, it’s best to speak up.
As in the case above, situations that aren’t addressed are more likely to escalate. If your employer fails to address the situation, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney so that you can have a better understanding of your rights.Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.