By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The former owner of a McDonald’s in south-central Wisconsin has agreed to pay $1 million to nearly a dozen former employees to settle a federal sexual harassment lawsuit.
The settlement Poynette-based Missoula Mac, Inc., reached with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also requires the corporation to create a special position for handling sexual harassment complaints, start a sexual harassment hotline for employees and train managers and workers on employment rights and how to handle harassment problems.
“Women who work in restaurants have it tough enough without having to put up with sexual harassment,” EEOC attorney John Hendrickson said in a statement released Wednesday announcing the settlement.
Missoula Mac officials said in a statement that the company doesn’t dispute that “improper workplace conduct” took place but questioned its extent. The company has been encouraging employees to report sexual harassment, the statement said.
“Nevertheless, Missoula Mac has concluded that the most prudent course of action is to settle this case rather than spending the time and financial resources necessary to continue to litigate the matter in court,” the statement said.
According to the EEOC, Missoula Mac owns 25 McDonald’s in Wisconsin. The commission filed a class-action lawsuit in Madison in April 2011 alleging male employees at the corporation’s Reedsburg restaurant had been sexually harassing female co-workers since at least 2006.
The harassment included sexual comments, kissing, touching the women’s private parts and forcing the women to touch the men’s private parts, according to the lawsuit. One woman quit and two other women were fired after they complained repeatedly about their co-workers’ behavior.
The corporation’s statement said the company sold the Reedsburg restaurant late last year.
Under the settlement, Missoula Mac must pay $1 million to those three women as well as seven other women.
The company must create a position for monitoring, soliciting and resolving complaints about working conditions at its restaurants. Whoever holds the position must visit each of Missoula Mac’s restaurants at least twice a year to monitor conditions and speak with employees about their concerns.
Missoula Mac also must create a toll-free hotline telephone number and email address for employees to report sexual harassment and retaliation. Managers must attend at least two hours of training on employment rights, harassment, retaliation and how to handle harassment and retaliation complaints.
Hourly employees must receive training on employment rights and responsibilities and procedures for reporting harassment, discrimination or retaliation. The company must play a video message from President John Orr emphasizing zero tolerance for sexual harassment and retaliation before each training session.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb approved the deal on Tuesday.