Thursday, April 15, 2010
Driving through fast-food places to satisfy our cravings for ice cream shakes and french fries, we rarely think about the work conditions people behind the counters deal with. Many of these workers are teenagers or young adults entering the professional workforce for the first time. Unfortunately, they are naïve to their rights and uncomfortable speaking up if they are treated unfairly by their employers.
Seventeen-year-old Erin Schwarzbach of Grapevine, Texas, however, wasn’t shy about speaking up when she was sexually harassed by her former manager. In October 2006, Schwarzbach filed a sexual harassment suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. Last week, Sonic Drive-In settled in favor of Erin Schwarzbach for $31,000. Under the settlement, Sonic has agreed to mandate corrective antidiscrimination measures and enforce antisexual harassment training in addition to the monetary amount.
Schwarzbach, a star student and academic leader at Colleyville Heritage High School, was repeatedly sexual harassed by her general manager at a local Sonic Drive-In restaurant. According to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC, restaurant manager Shawn Sadler subjected the girl to indecent comments, including puckering his lips to ask the girl for a kiss, simulating oral sex, and discussing sexual acts with the minor. Schwarzbach soon told her mother about the incidents who in turn complained to Sonic’s corporate officials. The company, according to the EEOC, failed to conduct a complete investigation and did not properly discipline Sadler even though they did acknowledge that his behavior was inappropriate.
Various Sonic franchisees have been subject to lawsuits over the last few years. In October 2009, a franchisee of Sonic in Los Lunas, New Mexico, was sued by the EEOC for sexual harassment and retaliation. Another Sonic located in New Orleans, Louisiana, was sued by the EEOC for disability discrimination.
Now a junior at the University of Texas, Erin Schwarzbach is hoping her case inspires other young women to speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace.