A Parent's Worst Nightmare
You are excited that your 16-year-old daughter landed a job at a reputable national fast food restaurant. “Yay!” you think. “She is going to learn responsibility and skills for the future.”
But no. Instead, your child is sexually abused by a person in a position of power, her Assistant Manager. Not once, but over 50 times. To make matters worse, when you confront the Assistant Manager’s supervisor, who is the General Manager of the restaurant, about the abuse, he begs you not to go to the police.
This is a real case. It was filed in Harris County, Texas on November 26, 2014 against Chipotle Mexican Grill (Chipotle) and the Assistant Manager. The plaintiff’s name was anonymized because she is a sexual assault victim.
Chipotle defended itself by proposing that the relationship was consensual, that the parties engaged in sex at locations away from the restaurant, and that the company was unaware of the actions of its managers at its Houston location.
The age of consent in Texas is 17. According to media reports, the evidence showed that sexual contact was repeatedly made at the restaurant.
On September 29, 2016, it took the jury just three and a half hours to hold Chipotle liable for sexual harassment and awarded the plaintiff $7.65 million in damages.
The Assistant Manager reportedly fled to Mexico to escape criminal charges and civil liability. It is unclear whether criminal charges will be filed against anyone else.
So, what does all this mean?
The EEOC recently concluded a 14-month study that reported that most anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training programs in U.S. companies are ineffective in preventing the misconduct. The EEOC study discussed the need for a pervasive cultural shift that promotes respect and civility.
Companies need to take a realistic look at their policies and practices to ensure that their employees are protected and encouraged to report alleged misconduct. No employee, especially a child, should be subjected to the actions of a predatory supervisor. A company cannot claim that it did not know what was going on, because as soon as a member of management is alerted to possible misconduct, the company is on notice and under a duty to investigate. Here, the jury concluded that the General Manager was aware of the misconduct and actively attempted to hide it. Therefore, Chipotle was put on notice and subject to liability.
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