The largest franchisee of Burger King restaurants has agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit for $2.5 million.
Carrols Restaurant Group announced that it will pay the money to 88 former and one current employee in a case that's dragged on for 14 years, reports Reuters.
Carrols did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement. In its announcement, the company simply explained that the settlement was "far less costly" than continuing to litigate the case.
The lawsuit began in 1998 when a New York employee filed a harassment charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reports Reuters. During the investigation of that charge, the agency found a pattern of harassing conduct and decided to file suit on behalf of 90,000 current and former female employees.
So the agency was granted permission to contact all 90,000 potential plaintiffs. Eventually, that number was whittled down to 511 women, which was whittled down further to the current 89 plaintiffs.
Fourteen years after the initial complaint, Carrols Restaurant Group finally agreed to settle the lawsuit by agreeing to enhance its anti-harassment policies and training programs. That's in addition to the $2.5 payout.
What is the lesson for small business employers?
Take active steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place. A sexual harassment lawsuit can be a serious drain on your resources and time. Even dealing with a complaint that ultimately has no merit can be extremely costly, as you will likely need legal counsel. As this Burger King franchisee sex-harassment suit shows, lawsuits can take many months, if not many years, to be resolved.
By maintaining a workplace free of harassment, you can better focus your energy on growing your company. Some steps you can take to protect yourself can include developing an anti-harassment policy, requiring training for supervisors and employees, and investigating every single complaint of harassment and taking appropriate remedial measures.
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- Burger King franchisee settles 14-year sexual harassment case with EEOC (Inside Counsel)
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- Do Your Employees Dress Too Provocatively? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)