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PRESS RELEASE
11-10-09

Cheesecake Factory Settles EEOC Suit in Case of Severe Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

Restaurant Chain Will Pay $345,000 to Six Male Employees Who Agency Alleged Were Repeatedly Sexually Assaulted

PHOENIX – Cheesecake Factory, Inc., a nationwide restaurant chain that touts itself as a place to create “lasting memories with family and friends,” will pay $345,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that six male employees were subjected to repeated sexual harassment at the company’s Chandler Mall location. 

In its lawsuit (EEOC v. Cheesecake Factory, Inc., CV 08-1207-PHX-NVW), the EEOC charged that Cheesecake knew about and tolerated repeated sexual assaults against six male employees by a group of male kitchen staffers. The company denied the allegations. However, according to the agency, the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the men suffered sexually abusive behavior, including abusers directly touching victims’ genitals, making sexually charged remarks, grinding their genitals against them, and forcing victims into repeated episodes of simulated rape. Managers witnessed employees dragging their victims kicking and screaming into the refrigerator, the EEOC charged. 

Complaints to virtually every manager at the restaurant were made, but they never put a stop to it. Victims felt helpless, the agency said, and one finally had to call the police.

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, said, “The evidence was clear, and everyone knew about it. Behind the lavish décor that the company boasts on its web site was a horribly dysfunctional workplace where male workers lived in fear.”

The two-year consent decree settling the suit, in addition to the monetary relief for the six victims, calls for the company to specifically train its employees and managers about sexual harassment and institute an ombudsman to field and address sexual harassment complaints by employees, among other injunctive measures. Failure by the company to fulfill its duties under the decree may mean court intervention and possibly sanctions.

Guy Knoller, one the EEOC trial attorneys who prosecuted this case, pointed out that the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office is prosecuting a similar case against Fleming’s Prime Steak House.

Acting District Director Rayford Irvin of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office said, “I am glad that such a severe case of same-sex sexual harassment has been resolved and that we can steer the Cheesecake Factory in the right direction toward creating a safe work environment free of sexual harassment for all employees. I’d like to commend the superb investigative and litigation efforts made by the EEOC team in Phoenix.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.