Restaurant Assistant Manager Physically and Verbally Abused Autistic Employee and Forced Him to Quit to Escape Harassment, Federal Agency Charged

Charlotte, N.C. – Jax, LLC, which operates a Golden Corral restaurant in Matthews, N.C., has agreed to pay $85,000 and provide other relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Jax discriminated against an employee when it subjected him to a hostile work environ­ment based on both his disability (autism) and his sex (male). The EEOC had also charged that the employee was forced to resign because of the harassment.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Sean Fernandez worked as a dishwasher at the Matthews Golden Corral. Fernandez has high-functioning autism, which limits his ability to communicate and interact with others. The EEOC alleged that, from around March or April 2014 until January 2016, a male assistant manager created a hostile work environment by repeatedly referring to Fernandez as “retard,” calling him “stupid,” and using profanity. The assistant manager also asked for oral sex from Fernandez, threatened to sexually assault him, and subjected him to unwanted physical contact, the EEOC said. Fernandez filed a complaint with the general and district managers, but the company failed to take effective action to prevent and correct the hostile work environment. Fernandez resigned his employment because he was fearful of encountering the assistant manager again, the EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division (EEOC v. Jax, LLC d/b/a Golden Corral, Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-535) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its concil­iation process.

In addition to providing monetary relief to Fernandez, Jax, LLC entered into a two-year consent decree requiring the company to implement an anti-discrimination policy that prohibits disability-based and sex-based discrimination. The decree further requires the company to conduct annual training for its Matthews employees and managers on the ADA and Title VII. Jax must also post an employee notice about the lawsuit and about employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws at its Matthews facility, and must provide periodic reports to the EEOC.

“Employers must take appropriate action to stop employees from harassing other employees,” said Kara G. Haden, acting regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “It is particularly problematic when the harassment is perpetrated by a supervisor. The EEOC takes the conduct and an employer’s failure to stop it seriously, and will prosecute cases where this kind of abuse occurs.”

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