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Monday, November 30, 2009

Sexual Harassment of Man by Female Co-Worker Costly

Reprint Opelika Auburn News November 29, 2009
Alabama@ Work
By Tommy Eden, Attorney

Just as we enter the season of the Christmas Office Party, a well know movie theater chain has some valuable lessons to teach employers when some are naughty. Regal Entertainment Group, a national movie theater chain, will pay $175,000 and furnish significant remedial relief to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC had charged that a Regal male employee was subjected to sexual harassment by a female co-worker and then retaliated against him for complaining about the unlawful conduct – along with two supervisors who tried to help. Knoxville based Regal Entertainment Group operates 549 theatres in 39 states.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that a male employee at a Regal theater in Marina del Rey, Calif., a section of Los Angeles, was subjected to a sexually hostile workplace by a female co-worker who repeatedly grabbed his crotch. When the male victim and his direct supervisor complained to the theater’s general manager, she failed to take adequate steps to stop or prevent the harassment. Instead, she retaliated against the harassed male employee and two other supervisory employees (male and female), who were also named Plaintiffs in the EEOC lawsuit. The retaliation included unwarranted discipline, unfairly lower performance evaluations and stricter scrutiny of performance.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit against Regal in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. According to EEOC data, the percentage of men filing sexual harassment charges nationwide has increased over the past decade from 12 to 16 percent of all charges involving sexual harassment.

In addition to the monetary relief, the consent decree settling the case requires Regal to: (1) provide annual anti-discrimination training to its employees; (2) closely track any future discrimination complaints to conform to its obligations under Title VII; and (3) provide annual reports to the EEOC regarding its employment practices.

Common Sense Counsel: In addition to monitoring employee Christmas Party misconduct (which is typically alcohol induced), Alabama employers need to train all supervisors on the proper responses to complaints of sexual harassment and take a hard line against retaliation. In this case the sexual harassment claim by a male was valid. But even in cases where discrimination allegation lacks merit, the law will still hold companies liable for any subsequent retaliation against the person who complained or other individuals who supported the claim or were part of the investigation.

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at