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Burger King settles long-running harassment lawsuit

In 1998, a Burger King worker filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying she had been sexually harassed on the job. After conducting an investigation, the EEOC determined that the behavior was widespread and filed a lawsuit against Carrols Restaurant Group Inc, the largest franchisee of Burger King restaurants in the United States.

The "pattern or practice" suit was filed on behalf of 90,000 current and former female Carrols employees, and after 14 years, a settlement was finally announced in the case this week. In the settlement, Carrols agreed to pay $2.5 million to the 89 remaining plaintiffs in the sexual harassment case, only one of whom is still employed by Burger King.

In addition to the monetary compensation, Carrols agreed to implement enhanced anti-harassment policies and to report its progress in doing so to the EEOC over the next two years.

However, Carrols did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement and claims that sexual harassment is not tolerated within the company. A spokesman for Carrols said that the settlement was reached because the company could not continue to pay for the litigation cost caused by the lawsuit. The monetary settlement will be divided among the 89 remaining plaintiffs.

In 2005, the EEOC identified 511 women who claimed to have been sexually harassed while working for Burger King. The judge overseeing the case then ordered that the claims were to be filed as individual cases instead of one class-action lawsuit. Throughout the next several years, the number of cases decreased to just 89 after many successful motions for summary judgment and dismissal.

In a statement, an EEOC spokesperson said this case demonstrates that while a company might have legitimate anti-discrimination policies on paper, what matters is how the policies are implemented. The policies must actually protect the workers, the spokesman said.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Burger King franchisee settles 14-year sexual harassment case," Brendan O'Brien, Jan. 9, 2013

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