KAPA‘A — A federal lawsuit claims teenage employees working at a Panda Express in Kapa‘a were groped and demeaned.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit alleges a male supervisor with the Chinese fast-food subjected a group of female employees to sexual harassment. The accuser and the supervisor are no longer with the restaurant.
The U.S. EEOC allege the charges in a lawsuit filed Sept. 27 in Honolulu. According to the complaint, the supervisor sexually abused at least three female teenagers starting in 2008 and likely several more.
At least one of the teen workers was physically groped and subjected to lewd language and obscene sexual propositions repeatedly, the EEOC said in a news release.
“This case highlights a serious problem we have noticed in the restaurant industry,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which includes Hawai’i in its jurisdiction. “Here we have a company that failed to stop repeated advances toward teen workers.”
“None of these young ladies had a chance against those odds,” Park added. “The EEOC is committed to ensuring that this type of misconduct does not reoccur at this restaurant or elsewhere in the industry.”
The Kapa‘a store manager said that Panda Express is committed to a safe and empowering workplace for all associates. She referred calls about the matter to Panda Restaurant Group in Los Angeles.
“It is our company policy to not comment on pending litigation,” said Thien Ho, senior manager of corporate relations.
The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC filed the lawsuit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Upon reporting the harassment to the general manager, the EEOC said the teen’s hours were cut in retaliation, forcing her to resign. Another teen victim was also forced to quit to avoid persistent verbal obscenities and sexual advances by the same supervisor.
The EEOC’s suit seeks all available relief including lost wages, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages on behalf of the class of women. Substantial remedies, including policy changes and staff training, are also being sought by the EEOC in order to prevent and to appropriately address future instances of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
“Workers absolutely have the right to report sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace without suffering negative consequences or retaliation,” said Timothy Riera, local director for the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office. “Subjecting teenaged workers — who are especially vulnerable — to this kind of abuse is especially unconscionable. The EEOC is here to help when employers fail to meet their legal obligation to protect their workers.”
The EEOC’s Youth@Work website offers information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. It contains curriculum guides and videos about rights and responsibilities in the workforce.
According to the Panda Express company website, the Rosemead, Calif.-based Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. manages and owns more than 1,400 restaurants in 42 states.