Texas Roadhouse to Fork Over $1.4M to End Harassment Case

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By Patrick Dorrian

Sept. 21 — A Texas Roadhouse franchisee in Columbus, Ohio, will pay $1.4 million to settle the EEOC’s allegations that a manager sexually harassed a group of female workers, including teenagers ( EEOC v. E. Columbus Host, LLC , S.D. Ohio, No. 2:14-cv-01696, consent decree announced 9/21/16 ).

Workplace sexual harassment has long been one of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s top concerns, and the agency in June called for a reboot of employer harassment prevention efforts. The size of the settlement, and the salacious nature of the EEOC’s allegations, are sure to highlight the agency’s focus on the issue for companies in the restaurant and other industries.

The EEOC had sued franchisee East Columbus Host LLC in September 2014, alleging that Eric Price, managing partner at the restaurant, pressured female workers as young as 17 for sex.

Price offered certain employment benefits as an inducement to acceding to his sexual demands and threatened workers with adverse job consequences if they refused, according to the agency. The harassment also included unwelcome touching and humiliating remarks to the female employees about their and other women’s bodies and sexuality, the complaint said.

In addition, Price interfered with the work schedules, leave opportunities and promotion opportunities of women who complained about the harassment, the EEOC alleged.

Manager Won’t Be Rehired

The complaint, which was filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, alleged that the harassment went on for more than three-and-a-half years. Price wasn’t fired, according to the EEOC, until he was caught on surveillance video touching a 17-year-old worker in his office during work hours.

East Columbus Host and co-defendant Ultra Steak Inc. agreed not to rehire Price in any capacity as part of the settlement.

The agreement also obligates the defendants to offer reinstatement to the 12 women the EEOC identified as Price’s victims.

The five-year consent decree was entered by Judge James L. Graham of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Sept 12, but wasn’t announced by the EEOC until Sept. 21. It applies to all restaurants in the U.S. owned or operated by East Columbus or codefendant Ultra Steak Inc. in which Robert F. Gatto Jr. is a market partner, manager or supervisor.

“Rooting out harassment in the workplace has long been a priority for the Commission,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said Sept. 21 in announcing the pact. “We hope that this settlement can serve as a road map to other employers seeking to prevent and eradicate sexual harassment in their workplace.”

Allegations' Brief 377 Pages Long

The settlement came 10 days after Graham denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the EEOC’s claims relating to 10 of the 12 women. He noted that the allegations against Price were so voluminous that the EEOC’s brief opposing summary judgment was 377 pages long.

Columbus Host didn’t respond Sept. 21 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

EEOC attorneys in Cleveland and Philadelphia represented the commission. Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP represented East Columbus Host and Ultra Steak.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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