Two International House of Pancakes franchises in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis will pay nearly $1 million combined to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed on behalf of several employees.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the suit in September and announced the settlement Thursday. The agreement requires the IHOP franchises to pay $975,000 in compensatory damages to 16 harassment victims who worked at locally-owned restaurants in Glen Carbon and Alton.
The EEOC said employees, including some teenagers, were routinely sexually harassed by co-workers and managers. The lawsuit alleged that harassment included offensive comments, groping, physical threats and one instance of attempted forced oral sex.
An email message seeking comment from an IHOP spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
The EEOC said most of the victims were female and worked at the Glen Carbon restaurant. The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of one male employee at the Alton IHOP.
"Employers are responsible for preventing workplace harassment — and their failure to do so hurts both their employees and their bottom line," Andrea G. Baran, an attorney for the EEOC's St. Louis office, said in a statement.
In addition to financial damages, the agreement requires the restaurants to implement stronger policies to prevent sexual harassment, and to establish better ways to investigate complaints.