Of 7,000 sexual harassment complaints reviewed by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over the last year, more than five dozen were filed by Applebee’s and IHOP employees who say they’ve experienced misconduct on the part of coworkers and managerial staff. Women who worked for the two chains, sister brands of parent company DineEquity, described toxic work environments where workers were expected to tolerate aggressive groping and sexual requests. If and when they complained, supervisors reportedly brushed them off and told them to just deal with it.
Although some of these complaints were settled out of court, a new investigation by Vox found that these two brands were the only restaurant chains sued at least four times each by the EEOC for sexual harassment.
Of those suits was filed in September on behalf of 11 women and one man who were employed at an IHOP in Illinois. They claim their general manager, Rami Ramadan, told female servers “that they were sexy and their pants looked good.” Shortly afterwards, Ramadan reportedly began pressuring one of the female workers — who was a minor at the time — to have sex with him. Upon her refusal, Ramadan allegedly got violently angry, reportedly holding a steak knife to the girl’s throat on one occasion and telling her that he didn’t like to hear “no.”
Other workers at the same IHOP reported that they had experienced and/or witnessed similar situations with cooks who allegedly grabbed their rear ends and breasts; one even reportedly attempted to stick his hand down a waitress’s pants. When concerns were raised to Ramadan, he allegedly told the employees, “That’s just how they play,” and “to suck it up.”
The EEOC is also helping to sue an Applebee’s in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on behalf of two waitresses who claim that their supervisor grabbed their breasts and rubbed his crotch against them. Sisters Tracy and Cindy Frye told Vox that they complained to another manager, but nothing happened as a result.
“On one such occasion," according to the lawsuit, "the assistant manager asked C. Frye if her ‘p----’ needed a good licking.” It’s reported that the supervisor was finally fired after Cindy’s husband confronted the general manager.
According to Vox, Federal lawsuits are currently pending against IHOP restaurants in New York, Illinois, and Nevada, and against Applebee’s locations in South Carolina and New York. Several other suits against both restaurants in other states have been settled or are in arbitration.
In an email, DineEquity executive director of global communications Thien Ho told The Daily Meal:
“Harassment of all nature has no place in any organization, including those affiliated with DineEquity. Our organization, brands, Applebee’s Grill + Bar and IHOP, and each of their franchisees are fiercely committed to maintaining a safe, positive and empowering environment for all team members. Both brands are 100% franchised and all 3,700 restaurants nationwide are independently owned and operated by entrepreneurs dedicated to serving their communities. Each franchisee establishes and adheres to their own strict policies against harassment in the workplace and we expect them to follow all local and federal laws. Additionally, our brands are guided by core values. While our franchisees have a strong track records of doing the right thing, failure to adhere to those values carries consequences, up to and including the termination of their franchise license.”
Shortly after New Orleans-based chef-restaurateur John Besh was accused of sexual misconduct, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio asked “real men” to acknowledge the larger culture that fosters sexism and harassment toward women in the kitchen. His voice, along with many others, taught us that the need for reform within the restaurant industry truly is one of the most important lessons we learned about food in 2017.