State, Feds Reach Sexual Harassment Agreement with Employer

A Vermont corporation that operates as a McDonald’s restaurant franchisee has been ordered to pay $1.6 million in damages and penalties after authorities said it failed to protect young workers from harm and sexual harassment, the state attorney general’s office announced Friday.

The agreement reached by the state and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission with Coughlin Inc. is the largest public sexual harassment settlement in the history of the Attorney General’s Office and one of the largest reported employment discrimination settlements in Vermont, the state says.

Among the terms in the five-year consent decree, Coughlin will establish a settlement fund of $1.2 million to provide compensation to victims of the harassment at its Randolph restaurant and revise its policies and procedures around sexual harassment.

It will also pay $125,000 in civil penalties and other damages to the State of Vermont, and $275,000 in damages to the estate of one of the complainants who died during the course of the litigation.

The state says the litigation began when the EEOC sued Coughlin in March 2021 for failing to protect young workers at its Randolph restaurant from a manager whose conduct over a period of years included hitting employees, as well as making offensive and degrading sexual comments.

The state says it intervened in the case based on its history with Coughlin. In 2007, the state Office Civil Rights Unit determined that Coughlin violated Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act when it failed to address the sexual harassment of employees at a different McDonald’s restaurant.

“This settlement sets the tone for employers to recognize their duty to keep workers safe, respect their dignity, and provide a workplace free of discrimination,” Vermont’s Acting Attorney General Joshua Diamond said in a statement.

Owner Charles Coughlin said that his company is committed to worker safety and wellbeing.

“We have established strict policies and mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees upon their hiring,” Coughlin said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “I am pleased that we have reached an agreement and can move forward.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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