Burger King Pays Big Bucks To Teen Workers In Sex-Harassment Cases
She was 17 when she got her first job, at a Burger King. Soon after, her older married supervisor allegedly followed her around, touched her, asked her about her virginity, told her to have sex with him and other male employees, and asked how much that would cost. The young woman complained to management, but no one listened. "I just wanted to come to work to do a good job," the teen said, "but I wasn't allowed to."
Now the Burger King franchise that ran the restaurant is paying the girl $150,000, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
This isn't the first time a Burger King supervisor has been accused of harassing a teen employee. Five years ago, Kathleen Joyner, an 18-year-old worker at a Burger King in Clemmons, N.C., claimed she suffered unwelcome touching, sexual advances, and requests for sexual favors from her general manager.
She told the assistant managers, but she said that they ignored her. In March 2009, the "Home of the Whopper" settled for $85,000.
And in 2004, a Burger King franchise paid out $400,000 to seven teens who had worked at one of its fast food outlets in a St. Louis suburb. After allegedly enduring groping and demands for sex for weeks, the female employees complained to assistant managers, as well as the district manager, but they shrugged it off.
As high schools and colleges hold graduations this spring, millions of young people will flood fast-food counters and American Eagles across the country to spend a couple of months learning responsibility, the value of a dollar and in some cases, that older people can be really creepy.
In a 2005 study of 260 high school girls, over half had experienced harassment at their jobs. According to E.J. Graff, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, who has long studied this issue, as many as 200,000 teens are harassed or assaulted on the job each year.
Sex Harassment Common In Fast Food Chains
It's almost impossible to find a chain that hasn't had a teen employee claim that he or she has been harassed or assaulted on its premises. Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, Steak 'n Shake, McDonald's, Jack in the Box, Jamba Juice, Starbucks, Wendy's and American Apparel (the clothing brand that brought you the "Teenagers Do It Better" T-shirt) have all grappled with charges.
Most disturbing is the fact that many of these teens, usually female, are often ignored by managers when they report the abuse. "I just thought that was how the real world was," said one 16-year-old, after other managers dismissed her complaints that another supervisor was stroking her when they were alone, describing his sex life in graphic detail, and showing her pornography.
But that's not how the real world is. Or at least, it doesn't have to be. The EEOC has set up a website, Youth@Work, to educate the country's youngest and most vulnerable employees about their rights -- like their right to have their boss not ask them for a hand job.
Courts may lean even more on the employee's side in these kinds of cases, if the employee in question is a kid, reports MSNBC. While all young people who enter the workforce should know their legal protections, their supervisers should know better than to test them.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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