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Restaurant to pay $450,000 in sexual harassment case

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A Lexington, Kentucky-based restaurant franchisee has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in connection with alleged sexual harassment at its Memphis, Tennessee, restaurant.

The EEOC said in a statement Friday that Mint Julep Restaurant Operations L.L.C., an independent restaurant company and franchisee of Irving, Texas-based casual dining chain Cheddars Casual Café, will pay $450,000 to 15 individuals to settle the EEOC lawsuit.

The EEOC said Mint Julep, which operates 42 Cheddar Café restaurants, permitted sexual conversations and jokes and allowed a general manager and bar manager to subject several female employees to sexual harassment at the Memphis restaurant.

The EEOC said also that the restaurant managers made requests for sexual favors and explicit sexual comments, subjected female employees to unwelcome touching, and did not respond to complaints “in a prompt and appropriate manner.”

The EEOC charged the company with sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to the monetary relief, settlement terms include mandatory anti-harassment training and maintenance of workplace cameras, the EEOC said.

“Having and disseminating an anti-harassment policy does not satisfy federal prohibitions against sexual harassment,” said regional attorney Faye Williams of EEOC's Memphis District Office, which serves Tennessee, Arkansas, and northern Mississippi, in a statement. “Employers must also enforce it. When an employer allows its managers to abuse its female employees in these ways and allows a sexually hostile work environment to persist, it is obviously not enforcing its anti-harassment policy. An unenforced policy is tantamount to having no policy at all.”

Court papers say the settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mint Julep.

Its attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last year, the EEOC reached a $160,000 settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit against Red Lobster Restaurants L.L.C., in which a manager was charged with sexually harassing three female employees.