The owners of a Burger King franchise in suburban St. Louis will pay $400,000 to seven teenage employees and meet other conditions to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Monday.
The workers claimed that from December 2000 to April 2001 when all but one were in high school restaurant manager Nathan Kraus subjected them to repeated groping, vulgar sexual comments and demands for sex, according to the lawsuit.
The girls complained to several assistant managers who felt helpless to assist them because Kraus was their boss, too, the girls’ attorney, said.
“They finally figured out how to go over Nathan’s head, and when they complained to headquarters, they let him resign,” Moench said. “The question is why it took four to five months to get reported right.”
A consent decree filed Monday in federal district court in St. Louis requires the companies to pay $400,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and not to rehire Kraus. They also must conduct extensive sexual harassment training for management, distribute a revised sexual harassment policy and set of procedures to all employees, and more prominently post in their restaurants a toll-free hot line number for reporting harassment. They also must report to EEOC any additional sexual harassment complaints at the store for two years. The decree still must be approved by the court.
The owners of the franchise Cape Girardeau-based Mid-America Hotels Corp. and Northwest Development Co. deny liability but made a business decision to settle, their attorney, Susan Rowe, said.
“The consent decree specifically states that Mid-America and Northwest deny all liability. The decision to settle the case was based on economics, considering the time and expense involved in a trial and the unpredictability of litigation,” she said in a statement.
The companies, owned by the same family, together or separately operate 38 Burger King restaurants in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky, the EEOC said.
A phone call to Kraus’ home went unanswered.
A rise in the number of teen harassment cases in recent years has led the commission to launch a national education initiative called Youth@Work to address discrimination against teenage workers.