Culver’s managers and employees harassed gay worker and another with disability, feds say

Workers at a Culver’s restaurant in Minnesota have been harassed, bullied and discriminated against — and management has failed to address the issues, according to federal authorities.

Now, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed two lawsuits against franchisee R & G Endeavors, Inc., which operates Culver’s Restaurants of Cottage Grove.

“Culver’s has a rich history of providing a safe and respectful work environment,” a company spokesperson told McClatchy News. “We take this situation very seriously. This restaurant is owned and operated by an independent franchisee. We are currently in communication with them to learn more.”

R & G Endeavors could not be reached for comment.

Disability discrimination

Authorities said an employee has been verbally abused and harassed because of his disability since August 2018.

Employees and managers “frequently shouted at the Aggrieved Individual, belittled him in front of co-workers, used and tolerated the use of slurs ... and subjected him to discipline because of his disability,” according to one of the federal complaints.

And despite having worked at the fast food chain longer than most of the other employees, the individual’s hourly pay was higher than only three of about 45 employees as of November 2021, officials said.

The employee has received smaller and less frequent raises because of his disability, the complaint says.

Racial and sexual orientation harassment

“Managers and other employees singled out a gay and African American employee for racial and homophobic insults that included the n-word and f-word, discussed his sex life, and referred to him as the restaurant’s ‘adopted African child,’” according to a May 23 news release.

The harassment started in March 2020, and at least two managers were involved, prosecutors said.

The worker reported the bullying to managers, but the franchisee didn’t do anything to stop it, according to one of the federal complaints.

On Aug. 17, 2020, “the harassment that day was the last straw,” officials said. The worker felt forced to quit because of “working conditions so intolerable it was impossible ... to endure them any longer.”

Sexual harassment

Female employees at the Culver’s have also been harassed since at least March 2020, officials said.

“For instance, male employees touched female staff on the butt, called them sexual pet names, pressured them for sex, and asked them to provide personal contact information,” according to the complaint. “This harassing behavior targeted employees as young as fourteen years old.”

The girls and women reported the harassment to management, but nothing was done to address it, prosecutors said.

“These forms of discriminatory harassment in the workplace are never acceptable,” Greg Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, said in the release. “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.”

The EEOC said it tried to secure aconciliation agreement with the franchisee before filing the two lawsuits.

The agency is seeking monetary relief for employees who were harassed and a court order that requires the franchisee to stop and prevent harassment and pay disparities, authorities said.

Cottage Grove is part of the Minneapolis metropolitan area.

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