Federal regulators on Tuesday sued a Culver's fast-food franchisee in Cottage Grove alleging that several of the fast-food restaurant's employees were subjected to racist, homophobic and sexist taunts, as well as hostilities aimed at a disabled worker.
The civil rights lawsuits were filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against R&G Endeavors Inc., which operates the Culver's near the 80th Street exit off Hwy. 10.
The legal action was taken on behalf of at least five people who worked at the Culver's and seeks unspecified financial compensation for alleged incidents going back nearly five years.
The agency also wants the court to grant permanent injunctions ordering a halt to discriminatory behavior at the restaurant and to "institute and carry our policies, practices and programs which provide equal employment opportunities for its employees regardless of race or sex," one of the suits read.
Speaking on behalf of Ben Gathje, the Culver's franchisee owner and CEO of R&G Endeavors, attorney Lisa Bachman said she isn't ready to comment on the legal action because "we haven't had a chance to review it. We will be defending [against] it."
Numerous phone, text and voice messages were left with Gathje, seeking a response to the allegations.
According to the EEOC's filings:
In one instance, managers and other employees singled out a gay and Black employee with racial and homophobic insults. They discussed his sex life, and one of them referred to him as the restaurant's "adopted African child."
Female employees, some as young as 14, were exposed to sexual harassment that included unwanted touching, jokes and propositions.
An employee with an undisclosed disability was the target of bullying and disability related slurs. Also, he was paid less than nearly all of his co-workers without disabilities.
Employees reported these incidents to management, but the company "failed to reasonably address the harassment or discipline those responsible," read a statement from the EEOC.
The working conditions forced one employee to quit.
"These forms of discriminatory harassment in the workplace are never acceptable," said Greg Gochanour, a regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District Office. "All employees – regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation or disability – should enjoy an equal right to safety, dignity, and respect in their place of work, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce that right, through litigation if necessary."
Diane Smason, acting district director of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, added, "Federal law requires employers to take prompt and effective action to stop harassment on the job. Employers cannot simply ignore repeated reports of harassment, allowing this abusive conduct to continue and spread."