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EEOC Lawsuit Push Takes Aim At Hospitality Employers

In the first half of August 2018 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed 16 lawsuits against employers—and hospitality employers should be especially wary about this surge of litigation, as several claims took direct aim at businesses in the industry.

Harassment Claims Continue To Capture Spotlight

In light of the sexual abuse allegations against high profile individuals and the subsequent #MeToo Movement, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic has announced workplace harassment issues are a priority for the agency. She pointed out that harassment “causes serious harm to women and men in all kinds of jobs across the country,” and commended not only the EEOC legal teams for their work but also the individuals who came forward with complaints, many of whom alleged they suffered retaliation as a result.

One case against a country club in California involves claims of sexual conduct by a manager directed at female employees, including soliciting naked pictures, grabbing their buttocks, attempting to kiss them, and requiring sexual favors for job benefits. The EEOC lawsuit alleges that when women refused, the manager threatened termination and reduced their working hours in retaliation.

A sports bar in New Mexico also faces an EEOC lawsuit for sexual harassment of female employees by managers and coworkers. Reported behavior included requests to “show more cleavage” in their uniforms, crude comments about their breasts and buttocks, comments by male employees about their penises, text requests for sex, and unwelcome touching. This case also alleges retaliatory actions against the women for complaining.

EEOC’s Push Includes Other Claims As Well

But sexual harassment is by no means the only kind of claim being faced by hospitality employers. The recent wave of EEOC litigation also includes claims of age discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and failure to accommodate employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), among others.

For example, a Georgia-based sports bar is facing an EEOC lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that a pregnant bartender was demoted to a lower-paying server position because of her pregnancy. EEOC officials brought the lawsuit stating that “physical appearance alone is never a sufficient reason for taking adverse action against a pregnant employee” and depriving her of income.

The most recent lawsuit was filed against the Grand Hyatt in New York City on August 15, alleging failure to accommodate a front desk employee with a disability. The EEOC alleges that the hotel violated the ADA by forcing the employee to stand while performing his duties despite his request for a sitting accommodation due to a spine condition. The lawsuit alleges that the hotel initially accommodated the employee by allowing him to sit, then required him to resume standing, causing him significant pain and forcing him to take an unpaid leave.

Conclusion

The wave of lawsuits by the EEOC shows that the agency is beefing up its enforcement efforts in priority areas. The EEOC’s most recent Strategic Enforcement Plan outlines the agency’s priorities and includes ensuring that employers comply with obligations to accommodate disabled employees, protecting pregnancy employees’ rights, and stamping out harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Now is the time to review your EEO, harassment, reasonable accommodation, and anti-retaliation policies to ensure that they meet modern standards. You should also train your managers and supervisors to ensure they are enforcing those policies, and confirm that employees are aware of your company’s commitment to a discrimination-free and harassment-free workplace.

For more information, contact the author at ARyan@fisherphillips.com or 404.240.4219.

Andria Ryan

Andria Ryan is a partner in the Fisher & Phillips Atlanta office and she serves as the chair of the firm's Hospitality Industry Practice Group. She represents employers in virtually every area of employment and labor law.

Andria represents employees throughout the United States in defending employment discrimination and harassment cases as well as handling traditional labor matters such as unfair labor practices and union campaigns.

She spends much of her time counseling employers in day to day employment and labor decisions and educating employers about prevention and practical solutions to workplace problems.

She is a frequent speaker to industry groups and human resources professionals on such topics as avoiding harassment in the workplace, maintaining a union free workplace, avoiding discrimination claims, proper interviewing, and effective discipline and discharge techniques.

In 2007 she received the Chairman's Award from the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association for her development of the Employment Compliance Guide for Colorado Hospitality Employers. She has also been honored by the South Carolina Hospitality Association and the Washington Lodging Association for valuable contributions by an Allied member. Andria is "AV" Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

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