Here’s a cautionary tale. The EEOC sued a Burger King franchisee in 1998 on behalf of 89 female employees who alleged sexual harassment. The case, pending in update New York, has been one of the EEOC’s most extensive sexual harassment cases ever.
The company fought the suit for 14 years and finally decided that although it denies any and all wrongdoing, it is settling the case for $2.5 Million, because (the CEO said), it was far less costly than continuing litigation, given the age of the claims and because hundreds of potential witnesses are scattered across the country, ill or deceased.
He further said that “We unequivocally do not tolerate sexual harassment in our workplace," but as the company’s counsel added, "It has cost the company an enormous amount of money to defend itself up to this point … It would have cost many more millions of dollars in legal fees to have concluded a potential trial of 89 claims."
Employers should take away from this sad saga that being right and vindicating yourself is an extremely costly endeavor. Sometimes you have to fight, it is true, but since anyone can file a lawsuit, it may be more effective (and less costly) to take preventative action to eliminate some of the root causes of employee lawsuits. As always:
— maintain a zero-tolerance policy as to harassment;,
— update your employee handbook;
— maintain an open dialogue with employees (as best you can),
— keep conducting anti-discrimination training of all managers and employees;
— document all disciplinary infractions and performance issues; and
— keep abreast of the law (reading this blog is a good way!).