Sparks Steak House has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle claims that a male manager sexually harassed and abused twenty-two male waiters over an eight-year period. In its lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged that the manager repeatedly groped the male waiters’ buttocks, made lewd sexual comments to them and tried to touch their genitals. The suit claimed that Sparks was liable for failing to stop the abuse even after the victims reported the harassment to other managers. Moreover, some of those who complained were retaliated against and assigned more difficult work or even suspended. Steve Cetta, vice president of the restaurant, commented that the steakhouse was not admitting any wrongdoing and merely settled the case to avoid further legal costs and bad publicity. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Sparks must set up a hotline for its employees to report harassment, maintain an updated sexual harassment policy and distribute it to its employees, and provide anti-discrimination training for employers.
While typically sexual harassment complaints are made by female employees, the EEOC reported that, over the past few years, the percentage of charges filed by males has risen to 16%. The EEOC takes these charges very seriously and has been filing more lawsuits on behalf of males in order to send a message that all forms of harassment are both unacceptable and unlawful.