A Houston-area restaurant chain violated federal law when it subjected its bartenders to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC also alleged that the company subjected the workers to retaliation after they complained about the misconduct.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, (Civil Action No 4:12-cv-00221), filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Berryhill Baja Grill subjected Kimberly Kulig and Laura Baatz to repeated sexual harassment. Baatz and Kulig, both bartenders, were sexually harassed by Philip Wattel, the owner of two Berryhill restaurants from at least 2006 to 2008. Wattel’s harassment included groping the two women, and exposing himself to at least one of them. The two employees complained about the harassment to Wattel himself, the store manager and a corporate human resources official. However, the misconduct continued, the EEOC said. Berryhill had no sexual harassment policy during the relevant time period. After the employees complained about the harassment and filed discrimination charges with the EEOC, Berryhill gave Kulig an unfavorable working schedule and refused to rehire Baatz. Thereafter, the harassment became so severe that Kulig was forced to quit her job in about December 2007, the EEOC said. Baatz’s employment with Berryhill was terminated in or about February 2008.
Sexual harassment and retaliation are forms of discrimination which violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in further employment discrimination or retaliation, as well as back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
“Sexual harassment is a form of psychological abuse that undermines an employee’s ability to work, affecting her productivity and morale,” said R.J. Ruff, director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office.
EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher said, SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1“Every company has a duty to protect its employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. And employees have a right to protect themselves from such harassment by coming to the EEOC.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s website at HYPERLINK “http://www.eeoc.gov” http://www.eeoc.gov.