The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against C.K. Family Restaurants of Globe, Inc., owned by Payson businessman Jeff Seivert, for $75,000 and other terms.
The suit, which was settled Tuesday, charged that an assistant manager of Seivert's Country Kitchen restaurant in Globe subjected five employees three females and two underage males to physical and verbal sexual harassment.
"We are pleased at Country Kitchen's willingness to address this serious situation with the serious attention it deserves," Sally C. Shanley, the lead trial attorney on the case, said. "The consent decree's requirements ... will go a long way to ensuring that this type of harassment does not occur in the future."
Seivert who owns Fargo's Steakhouse and the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Payson, and until recently was the owner of the local Country Kitchen restaurant had a contrasting view of the lawsuit's outcome when contacted last week.
"Absolutely nothing was proven to have ever happened" at the Globe restaurant, Seivert said. "We settled a case that is approximately four years old ... To litigate the case (cost) $250,000 to $300,000 in attorney fees, so it was a matter of economics."
The suit, he said, was filed by "five disgruntled ex-employees that would not conform to the company policies. It was cheaper for us to settle it than to take it to court."
Agreeing to the settlement, Seivert said, was "not a matter of right or wrong; it was about economics."
According to the suit, two underage male employees, one 16 and one 17, were subjected to unwelcome sexual touching and verbal harassment by an unidentified assistant manager, and that general manager Don Schmidt only encouraged that conduct.
The EEOC also alleged that Schmidt who has retained his title and job with the Globe restaurant subjected young female employees to sexual touching and innuendoes.
Such conduct violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation.
According to the terms of the settlement, Seivert's company will distribute the $75,000 award among the five former employees who filed the lawsuit.
The consent decree also requires that Country Kitchen of Globe revamp its sexual harassment policy and train all management-level employees on the new policies, as well as inform all employees of the revised policy and employees' rights to redress their grievances.
The settlement further requires that the company report to the EEOC on compliance with the new anti-harassment policies and ensure that Schmidt attend counseling sessions to address sexual harassment and gender issues in the workplace.
"Sexual harassment remains a serious problem in the workplace," Charles Burtner, district director of EEOC's Phoenix District Office, said, "but the fact that these victims were young and some were underage made this a particularly intolerable situation. I am proud that the EEOC was there to defend the rights of these especially vulnerable young workers."