Largest EEOC Sexual Harassment Case Settled, Costs Burger King Franchisee $2.5 Million

Sexual harassment is costing the world’s largest Burger King franchisee, Carrols Corp., $2.5 million to settle complaints brought by 89 women from around the nation.

The move settles a 15-year sexual harassment case that became the largest in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Carrols Burger King will pay $2.5 million in sexual harassment case.

A Carrols Burger King

The world’s largest Burger King franchisee, Carrols Corporation, will pay $2.5 million and take other steps to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by EEOC.

The lawsuit alleged discrimination against 89 female employees around the country. Many of the women were teenagers when they worked for Carrols.

“The harassment reported by the women in this case was truly egregious, with the majority of cases involving physical contact,” said Gillian L. Thomas, trial attorney in the EEOC’s New York office. “No woman, regardless of age, should have to endure such abuse just to earn a paycheck.”

The sexual harassment ranged from obscene comments, jokes, and propositions to unwanted touching, exposure of genitalia, strip searches, stalking, and even rape. In the majority of cases managers, according to the EEOC, perpetrated the sexual harassment.

Carrols also retaliated against some of the women by cutting their hours, manufacturing discipline against them, and even firing them, according to the EEOC. Carrols forced more women to quit because sexual harassment made their working conditions intolerable.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 98-cv-01772 FWS/TWD in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

Carrols is based in Syracuse, N.Y., and owns, operates and franchises 576 Burger King restaurants as well as about 250 Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana restaurants.

In 2012, Carrols nearly doubled its Burger King locations in a deal that gave Burger King a 28.9% ownership stake in the franchisee. Carrols operates in 13 states and employs more than 17,000 people.

The Carrols lawsuit was the largest sexual harassment case the EEOC has handled in both number of accusers and geographic area involved, EEOC officials told Syracuse The Post-Standard in 2004.

The case started with one accuser in 1998, growing to more than 500 in 13 states nine years ago, according to published reports.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin dismissed the EEOC’s company-wide claims against Carrols in 2005, ruling it failed to show a “pattern or practice” of sexual harassment. That left 511 individual claims.

Scullin threw out another 400 cases in 2011 at Carrols’ request on the grounds that they were too old or that some had filed their own separate lawsuits, leaving 131 women in the lawsuit.

The EEOC was unable to track down some of the women, Thomas told The Post-Standard, leaving 89 who will receive the settlement money, none of which goes to the EEOC.

Carrols will also implement a number of measures to increase employees’ awareness of Carrols’ anti-harassment policies and to improve Carrols’ response to complaints brought forward under those policies.

Those measures include:

    • enhanced training for Carrols’ managers in preventing and responding to sexual harassment
    • improved tracking of sexual harassment complaints;
    • notices posted in all U.S. Carrols Burger Kings informing employees about the lawsuit’s resolution and their rights under federal anti-discrimination laws;
    • an injunction prohibiting further sexual harassment and retaliation.

Carrols’ CEO Daniel T. Accordino said the company did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

“We unequivocally do not tolerate sexual harassment in our workplace,” Accordino said in a news release.

He said Carrols agreed to settle because the settlement cost was less than the expense of continuing to fight the case in court.

“Our agreement with the EEOC to continue, and in limited circumstances enhance, our best practices on harassment prevention and training confirms our commitment to providing a workplace with equal opportunity and free from sexual harassment,” Accordino wrote.

“As this case demonstrates, the EEOC will persist in enforcing the legal prohibitions against harassment until the matter is resolved,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel for EEOC. ”Although employers may have adequate anti-harassment policies on paper, they are of little value when employers fail to take positive steps to prevent or remedy harassment.”

The EEOC recently updated its Youth@Work website (at, 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 work force.

Further EEOC information is available at

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