The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Country Kitchen restaurant in Globe.
The suit alleges that members of the restaurant's management team sexually harassed five employees some of whom were minors or young adults to such a degree that they resigned their positions in or around August 1998.
Jeff Sievert of Payson, who owns the Globe eatery and the Country Kitchen in Payson, said he and his management team flatly deny the charges.
"We totally believe that we will be vindicated," he said. "We're going to defend it to the end, and we don't believe there is really an issue there."
According to the EEOC complaint, the restaurant's male general manager allegedly engaged in "purposefully rubbing up against female employees and inappropriate touching," and "causing a sexually hostile work environment by constant sexual innuendo and ridiculing employees who became upset ... and telling them that if they did not like his behavior they could find another job."
The complaint further alleges that the restaurant's male assistant manager made "sexually suggestive and unwelcome comments" to minor male employees, such as "constantly telling them how 'good' they looked when they bent over and that they better 'watch
out.'" The assistant manager also is accused of having grabbed "young male employees in the groin area and other inappropriate and unwelcome touching."
The complaints, Sievert said, are the result of a change in management and in management style that irked the employees.
"We opened that store in Globe in '95, and we had some horrible management down there," Sievert said. "However, a select group of employees kind of enjoyed that ... (But) we replaced that management team in the fall of '97 ... The Country Kitchen program was put in place, and it wasn't what the staff was used to, so they rebelled."
The current general manager, Sievert added, "has a remarkable record of turning that store around. He has numerous awards from Country Kitchen, and was recently named general manager of the year throughout the United States ... He has staff there now that has been there since he took over, which is unusual in the restaurant business."
In its lawsuit, the EEOC is seeking monetary relief for the five employees, including back pay with prejudgment interest and compensatory and punitive damages, said attorney Sally Shanley, who is representing the plaintiffs for the EEOC.
The commission also is seeking an injunction prohibiting future discrimination and any other curative relief to prevent any continuation of the alleged discriminatory practices.
"It is especially important that employees in small communities, which may have limited employment opportunities, not be subject to sexually offensive conduct nor be forced to work in sexually tainted environments," said C. Emanuel Smith, acting regional attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. "This case seeks to ensure that result."
Charles Burtner, director of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, added, "(We have) a special interest in protecting citizens of smaller communities in Arizona. We hope the filing of this lawsuit sends a message to employers outside of the metropolitan area the Title VII will be enforced."
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.
On July 26 and 27, EEOC investigators will convene in Payson to meet with members of the community who think they have been subjected to employment discrimination. The meetings will take place at the offices of the Department of Economic Security, 122 E. Highway 260, Suite 110, Payson.
Call the EEOC at (602) 640-4997 to schedule an appointment or to obtain more information.