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POYNETTE, Wis.—A McDonald's Corp. franchisee has reached a $1 million settlement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of a class sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the agency in connection with the alleged activities at a single location that it no longer operates, the agency said Wednesday.
The EEOC said that since at least 2006, several male employees of the Poynette, Wis.-based Missoula Mac Inc.'s Reedsburg, Wis., restaurant had subjected female coworkers to sexual harassment. This included sexual comments, kissing, touching of their private areas and forcing their hands onto the men's private parts, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC charged that Missoula Mac failed and refused to take “prompt and appropriate action” to correct the harassment and the resulting hostile environment, forcing at least one of the harassed employees to quit, according to the agency.
The company also fired other harassed employees after they repeatedly complained about their co-workers' behavior, according to the EEOC statement. Three women previously employed at the restaurant filed discrimination charges with the EEOC that lead to the lawsuit.
Under a court-approved, four-year consent decree, Missoula Mac will pay $1 million in compensatory damages to 10 former employees who experienced sexual harassment and retaliation, according to the EEOC.
Other steps the company has agreed to take include creating an ombudsperson position to monitor sexual harassment or retaliation complaints, and establishing telephone and email hot lines to report such complaints.
Chicago-based EEOC regional attorney John Hendrickson said in a statement, “The ongoing sexual harassment in Reedsburg, and the company's refusal to stop it, devolved into a culture of oppression, retaliation and fear. Women who work in restaurants have it tough enough without having to put up with sexual harassment.”
Missoula Mac issued a statement that said the events involved in the lawsuit occurred in 2007 and 2008, and that it sold the Reedsburg restaurant to new ownership in late 2011.
“There were no allegations of harassment by management, but it was alleged that management did not adequately respond to complaints about co-worker conduct,” said the statement.
“While the company does not dispute some of the allegations of improper workplace conduct, the extent of such conduct was disputed. Nevertheless, Missoula Mac has concluded that the most prudent course of action is to settle this case rather than spending the time and financial resources necessary to continue to litigate the matter in court.”
The statement also said: “Missoula Mac seeks to provide a safe and friendly work environment for its employees. Missoula Mac agrees that sexual harassment does not belong in the workplace. The company has implemented many procedures since 2008 to deter any sexual harassment in the workplace and to encourage its employees to report any sexual harassment that occurs. The agreement with the EEOC implements additional measures toward this goal.”