The female employees--six of whom were in high school--worked at a St. Louis-area Burger King in 2000 and 2001. The restaurant manager, Nathan Kraus, allegedly made vulgar sexual comments and touched the women inappropriately. According to the EEOC, complaints by the women to assistant managers and to a district manager were not addressed and the company did not provide employees with sufficient training on how to handle sexual harassment at work.
The lawsuit was filed against Midamerica Hotels and Northwest Development Co., companies that operate dozens of Burger Kings in the Midwest and South. The companies will now conduct sexual harassment training for managers and more prominently post an 800-number hotline for reporting problems.
Lynn Bruner, district director for the EEOC, tells Workforce Management that she noticed over the past couple years that several cases her agency was handling involved young female workers. Bruner mentioned it to other key players at the EEOC, who found that a similar pattern was happening nationwide.
The agency launched a public education initiative called "Youth@Work" designed to let more teenagers know about their employment rights. Bruner says that EEOC vice chairwoman Naomi Earp is particularly involved in the campaign.
Bruner is partnering with regional organizations such as the Missouri Restaurant Association to educate them on how to avoid harassment and handle harassment claims, as well as to "help companies stay out of trouble," she says. The EEOC sometimes charges a fee for such training and sometimes does the work for free.
Bruner has also sent e-mails to about 1,665 high schools in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois letting them know about the Youth@Work effort.