Country Inn at Berkeley Springs to pay $85,000 to settle sexual harassment suit

BERKELEY SPRINGS – The Country Inn at Berkeley Springs will pay $85,000 and furnish significant remedial relief to settle a federal sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit involving female employees.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that 5042 Holdings Limited, which is doing business has the Country Inn at Berkeley Springs, permitted Candace Bland, a housekeeper, and a class of female staff members employed in the kitchen/restaurant to be sexually harassed by male employees.

Two of the victims were 18-year-old high school students at the time of the harassment, according to an EEOC press release.

The EEOC claims the rampant sexual harassment including male employees engaging in offensive and unwelcome touching and groping of female employees' repeatedly requesting dates; and using crude, sexually explicit language toward the female workers.

The EEOC said one male employee even exposed himself to employees in the workplace.

Bland and other women complained to the owner and management, but the employer failed to stop the harassment and instead unlawfully reduced the working hours of the women who had complained to publish them, according to the EEOC's lawsuit.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment. Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who opposes sexual harassment or discrimination.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of West Virginia, Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-61, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $85,000 in monetary relief to Bland and the other class members, the five-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins the Country Inn from engaging in any further discrimination or harassment based on sex or retaliation for complaining about it.

The decree mandates that the Country Inn will revise and disseminate policies prohibiting harassment and retaliation and must set up procedures for promptly investigating and addressing such misconduct.

The company must also provide anti-discrimination training, post a notice on the settlement and report to the EEOC about the company's response to any complaints of alleged sexual or retaliatory harassment or discrimination.

"Sexual harassment of employees in the hospitality industry continues to be a serious problem," said EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office. "Employers exacerbate the problem, and increase their potential legal liability, if they retaliate against women who complain about harassment instead of punishing the harassers."

The Philadelphia District Office oversees Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.

"We are pleased that the Country Inn worked with the EEOC to resolve this lawsuit," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence. "The consent decree includes significant measures that will benefit all the company's employees."

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