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EEOC Sues Panda Express Restaurant in Hawaii for Rampant Sexual Harassment

Teenage  Girls Physically Groped and Demeaned by Supervisor, Federal Agency Charges

HONOLULU - A Panda Express restaurant, part of the giant Chinese fast-food chain, subjected a class of female employees, including  teenagers, to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity  Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed in Hawaii yesterday.  

According to the EEOC, a male supervisor at the Panda  Express in Kapaa, Kauai, sexually abused at least three female teenagers starting  in 2008 and likely several more.  At  least one of the teen workers was physically groped and subjected to lewd  language and obscene sexual propositions repeatedly.  Upon reporting the harassment to the general  manager, the EEOC said, the teen's hours were cut in retaliation, forcing her  to resign.  Another teen victim was also  forced to quit to avoid persistent verbal obscenities and sexual advances by  the same supervisor. 

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights  Act of 1964.  The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Panda Express, Inc. and Panda  Restaurant Groups, Inc., Case No. CV12-00530-RLP) after first attempting to  reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC's suit seeks all available relief  including lost wages, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages on  behalf of the class of women.  Substantial  remedies including policy changes and staff training are also being sought by  the EEOC in order to prevent and to appropriately address future instances of sexual  harassment, discrimin­ation and retaliation. 

"This case highlights  a serious problem we have noticed in the restaurant industry," said Anna Y.  Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, which  includes Hawaii  in its jurisdiction.  "Here we have a company  that failed to stop repeated advances toward teen workers.  None of these young ladies had a chance  against those odds.  The EEOC is  committed to ensuring that this type of misconduct does not reoccur at this  restaurant or elsewhere in the industry."

Timothy Riera, local director for the EEOC's Honolulu Local  Office, added, "Workers absolutely have the right to report sexual harassment  and discrimination in the workplace without suffering negative consequences or  retaliation.  Subjecting teenaged workers  - who are especially vulnerable -- to this kind of abuse is especially  unconscionable.  The EEOC is here to help  when employers fail to meet their legal obligation to protect their workers."

The EEOC recently updated its "[email protected]" website, which presents  information for teens and other young workers about employment  discrimination.  The website also  contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young  workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce.

According to the Panda Express company website, Rosemead, Calif.-based  Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. manages and owns over 1,400 restaurants in 42  states.

© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionNational Law Review, Volume II, Number 272
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

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