SAN DIEGO - Asian tea and snack restaurant chain Tapioca Express and two of its franchisees have settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $102,500 and other relief, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC, the owner of two Tapioca Express franchisees in Chula Vista and National City, Calif., harassed young Filipino female employees between the ages of 17 and 23, intentionally taking advantage of time alone with them to make unwanted sexual advances. The harassment included repeated and unwanted comments of a sexual nature and physical contact. According to the lawsuit, some employees felt forced to quit due to the increased harassment. Additionally, the EEOC charged that all three defendant companies failed to prevent and correct the harassing behavior even after a written complaint was submitted.
Such alleged conduct is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (EEOC v. Tapioca Express, Inc., Erivera Enterprise, LLC d/b/a Tapioca Express, and Edeleen, Inc. d/b/a Tapioca Express, Case No. 3:18-cv-01217-MMA-BLM).
In addition to the monetary relief for the victims, Tapioca Express has agreed to retain an external monitor to assist the company with internal EEO audits, reviewing and revising its policies and procedures, and establishing a complaint procedure. Tapioca Express will also provide anti-sexual harassment training to all employees. The court will maintain jurisdiction of the case for the term of the 30-month consent decree settling the suit.
"Harassment remains a persistent problem in the workplace, which must be addressed top-down in any company," said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, which includes San Diego County in its jurisdiction. "We are encouraged by the steps Tapioca Express has taken to resolve this matter and the measures it has put in place to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination."
Christopher Green, director of the EEOC's San Diego Local Office, added, "We commend the young women for coming forward to shine a light on the harassment to which they were subjected. Their strength may give courage to other young people or those in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community who may be suffering harassment or discrimination in the workplace to come forward as well."
According the company's website, www.tapiocaexpress.com, the South El Monte, Calif.-based franchise Tapioca Express specializes in milk tea and other popular snacks from Asia, with stores in California, Nevada and Washington.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is also one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC's Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/) presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination, including curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities.