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Bismarck Applebee’s owners to pay $1 million in abuse case

Bismarck Applebee’s owners to pay $1 million in abuse case

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The Minot-based operators of a Bismarck Applebee’s restaurant have agreed to pay $1 million to 17 employees who filed charges of sexual harrassment by a former general manager.

Food Management Investors Inc. and Apple Core Enterprises Inc., both of Minot, reached on agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve a suit alleging harrassment by Mike Cordova, the former general manager of the Applebee’s restaurant at 434 S. Third St.

In addition to the damages paid to the workers, the company agreed to implement several remedies, including informing employees of their rights, creating an ombudsman position, establishing a hotline to report abuse, setting rules for Internet use at restaurants and creating training practices to prevent abuse.

“From the EEOC’s point of view, that’s always important in a case like this,” said Jean Kamp, attorney with the EEOC’s Chicago district. “Money for the victims is important but so is making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Apple Core human resources director Tom Weaver provided a statement on the agreement:

"We truly regret the incidents and have launched an aggressive retraining program that underscores our commitment to providing team members a fair and supportive work environment. We have a zero-tolerance policy against harassment in the workforce."

The EEOC began an investigation of behavior at the restaurant in 2007 after five women filed complaints with the commission, and it brought a suit against the company in June 2010 after the EEOC could not reach an agreement on steps to address the complaints, said Nick Pladson, the EEOC’s lead lawyer in the case.

According to the complaint against the company, Cordova allegedly groped female employees, solicited sex, exposed himself, showed employees pornography, told lewd jokes and stories, and made explicit comments to demean female employees. The EEOC’s complaint also alleged that he coerced an employee into performing oral sex in exchange for a raise.

Cordova was fired in 2007 following the complaints, Pladson said, and none of the 17 women who will share in the damages payment still works with the restaurant.

The remedies outlined in the agreement will apply to the defendants’ 30 stores in four states, Weaver said. The restaurant operators must provide reports to the EEOC for three years, according to Kamp.

“During that time they will be sending us reports every six months, and we’ll be reading them with great interest,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck issued a consent decree in the case Thursday.

(Reach reporter Christopher Bjorke at 250-8261 or chris.bjorke@bismarcktribune.com.)

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