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Sonic Drive-In Settles EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit

General Manager Subjected Teenage Carhop to Sexual Touching, Federal Agency Charged

DALLAS, Texas  – A Sonic Drive-In in Grapevine, Texas,  has agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for $31,000, the agency announced today. The EEOC’s suit charged that SDI of Grapevine  [2240 Hall Johnson Road],  A Texas Partnership, subjected 17-year-old carhop Erin Schwarzbach to a  sexually hostile work environment created by the general manager of the  restaurant.

According to the  EEOC, General Manager Shawn Sadler, who was in his mid-20s at that time,  subjected Schwarzbach, an academic standout at Colleyille Heritage  High School, to unwanted  sexual conduct. The harassment by the  manager included puckering his lips as if to give Schwarzbach a kiss and  telling her how a woman should perform oral sex on a man. When Schwarzbach  would ask Sadler to review her receipts so she could leave, he told her that he  would do so in exchange for oral sex. Schwarzbach  provided the EEOC with information that when she would bend down to put on her  roller skates at the beginning a shift, the manager would grab her head and  push it down in an attempt to simulate oral sex.

After Schwarzbach’s  mother reported the conduct to company officials, the EEOC said, defendant  failed to conduct a proper investigation and did not appropriately discipline  the manager, even though the company found that he had engaged in “harassing  behavior.”

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of  1964. In October 2006, Ms.  Schwarzbach filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, initiating an  investigation by the agency’s Dallas District Office. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No.  3:08-CV-1606-L) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas,  Dallas Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

Under the settlement, besides the monetary award, SDI of Grapevine is enjoined from further discrimination  on the basis of gender, including sexual harassment, and from retaliating in  any way against person for reporting or complaining about discriminatory  practices. Further, the company will  take corrective measures for the next five years, including anti-harassment training  and notice posting. The company will  also place in the manager’s personnel file a written notice stating that a  young worker has alleged sexual harassment, including forced physical touching,  and that any further complaints will be fully investigated according to defendant’s  procedures and, should there be evidence to support such claims, he shall be  subject to immediate termination.

Schwarzbach, now a junior at the University  of Texas, said, “Although the process to get where we are today was long and  trying at times, the opportunity to stand up for myself -- and for other girls who have been or may be in the  same situation -- made it worth my commitment to initiate change. And I  hope I have set an example for other young women in the working world.”

“Young workers are often vulnerable  in part because of they are taught or accustomed to respect and obey persons in  position of authority,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of the EEOC’s  Dallas District Office. “The other part of the equation is that high school-aged  workers are typically unfamiliar with the laws that protect them. In this case, the young lady did the right  thing by discussing her concerns and discomfort with her mother.”

Devika Seth, senior trial attorney  with the EEOC’s Dallas  office, said, “To have a high-level manager subject a teenage employee to such  mistreatment has the potential to establish the acceptance of such behavior in  the workplace. We hope this settlement  shows that there will be accountability when such an abuse of power occurs. We are proud that Ms. Schwarzbach came forward  and asserted her right to work in a harassment-free environment.”

During  Fiscal Year 2009, the EEOC and state and local fair employment practice  agencies (FEPAs) received a combined total of 12,696 sexual harassment charge  filings nationwide.

The  EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is  available on its web site at