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Workplace Sexual Violence, Men Against Men

November 12, 2009

The food chain Cheesecake Factory agreed to pay $345,000 to settle federal sexual harassment charges this week. The Equal Opportunity and Employment Commission (EEOC) complaint against the company alleged that management at some company restaurants knew about and tolerated sexual assault and harassment of male employees by other men on staff.

An EEOC attorney on the case called the chain “a horribly dysfunctional workplace where male workers lived in fear.” Men who worked at an Arizona location of the chain reported being assaulted by groups of other male employees and observing such assaults. The abused men were repeatedly pinned down by groups of other men, partially stripped and sexually groped in simulated rapes. The men charge that management knew about the assaults and did nothing to stop them. One manager stated that he tried to fire several workers he observed assaulting another employee, but says a district manager allowed the violent workers to return to their jobs.

While sexual assault and harassment remains predominately by men against women, the EEOC has reported that its data showed “a steady increase” in reports by male victims. Cheesecake Factory is just the latest major company to be hit with charges by male victims: earlier this year the department store chain Dillards paid $110,000 to settle charges of “verbal and physical sexual harassment,” and the EEOC previously sued Kraft Foods on charges that men were touched, grabbed, and sexually assaulted by a male supervisor.

As two leading writers and anti-violence advocates have written, sexual assault is perpetuated by social norms that discourage men from challenging other men’s sexual violence. Founders of Men Stopping Rape, one of the country’s first male led anti-rape organizations, they note, “although everyday millions of males in our society practice various forms of assault on the remainder of the population, and particularly against women, there is only the tiniest visible agitation against it by other males.”

Sexual violence isn’t the only abuse workers faced at the Cheesecake Factory. In 2005, the chain paid $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit with workers who alleged the chain forced staff to work unpaid hours and engaged in illegal pay practices. The wait staff workers charged that they were required to buy their own order pads, pens, corkscrews, logo t-shirts and other required equipment and materials. They also reported being forced to work “off the clock” hours and charged that company policy was “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”

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