EEOC sues local Denny's, alleges sexual harassment

 
Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: THU 02/11/1999
Section: Business
Page: 2
Edition: 3 STAR

By L.M. SIXEL
Staff

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the Denny's restaurant chain for alleged sexual harassment and the retaliatory firing of a waitress at one of its Houston locations.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Wednesday, alleges a supervisor of one of its restaurants in the 11000 block of Interstate 45 sexually harassed waitress LaTonya Stewart by fondling her breasts and buttocks, making suggestive remarks and repeatedly asking her for dates.

Katrina Patrick, Stewart's lawyer, said Stewart complained about the alleged harassment several times on the company's toll-free employee grievance line, told the district manager several times and even described the problem in detail to the chief executive officer's secretary, who promised the CEO would return the call.
To support Stewart's case, Patrick also said she has statements from patrons and current and former employees describing the harassment they witnessed.
Debbie Atkins, public relations manager for Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny's, said the company can't comment on the case because it hasn't been served with the lawsuit yet.

But Atkins said the company has a strict policy prohibiting sexual harassment and that employees can call a toll-free number to report problems, which are investigated immediately. Atkins added that all managers must attend a one-day training session in which the prohibition of sexual harassment is stressed.
Patrick said Denny's did nothing to stop the harassment or even launch an investigation until after Stewart was fired. Stewart, hired in 1996, was fired the following year, allegedly for being discourteous. The EEOC, however, alleges her firing was in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment.

Patrick said the supervisor, Clifford Mendes, was later fired for stealing cash from another Denny's on the Eastex Freeway last February and is now serving a probated sentence. Mendes could not be reached for comment.

Even though Denny's has had its share of problems with discriminatory behavior, it turned a blind eye when it was confronted with evidence that there was sex discrimination going on, Patrick said.

"I'm sick and tired of employers who refuse to take responsibility and put a stop to this kind of horrendous behavior," said H. Joan Ehrlich, district director of the EEOC in Houston.

Denny's paid $54 million in 1994 to settle a race discrimination case brought by black customers and came under fire last year for ignoring 40 black sixth-graders and their chaperones who stopped to eat at a Florida Denny's during a field trip.


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