Teenage Girls Physically Groped and Demeaned by Supervisor, Federal Agency Charges
HONOLULU - A Panda Express restaurant, part of the giant Chinese fast-food chain, subjected a class of female employees, including teenagers, to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed in Hawaii yesterday.
According to the EEOC, a male supervisor at the Panda Express in Kapaa, Kauai, sexually abused at least three female teenagers starting in 2008 and likely several more. At least one of the teen workers was physically groped and subjected to lewd language and obscene sexual propositions repeatedly. Upon reporting the harassment to the general manager, the EEOC said, the teen's hours were cut in retaliation, forcing her to resign. Another teen victim was also forced to quit to avoid persistent verbal obscenities and sexual advances by the same supervisor.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Panda Express, Inc. and Panda Restaurant Groups, Inc., Case No. CV12-00530-RLP) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC's suit seeks all available relief including lost wages, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages on behalf of the class of women. Substantial remedies including policy changes and staff training are also being sought by the EEOC in order to prevent and to appropriately address future instances of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
"This case highlights a serious problem we have noticed in the restaurant industry," said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction. "Here we have a company that failed to stop repeated advances toward teen workers. None of these young ladies had a chance against those odds. The EEOC is committed to ensuring that this type of misconduct does not reoccur at this restaurant or elsewhere in the industry."
Timothy Riera, local director for the EEOC's Honolulu Local Office, added, "Workers absolutely have the right to report sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace without suffering negative consequences or retaliation. Subjecting teenaged workers - who are especially vulnerable -- to this kind of abuse is especially unconscionable. The EEOC is here to help when employers fail to meet their legal obligation to protect their workers."
The EEOC recently updated its "Youth@Work" website, which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. The website also contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce.
According to the Panda Express company website, Rosemead, Calif.-based Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. manages and owns over 1,400 restaurants in 42 states.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.