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Lawsuits accuse Shoney’s of sexual discrimination October 28, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, female, harassed, Sexual harassment, Women.

Eleven women are suing Shoney’s alleging sexual discrimination, accusing senior executives at the family-friendly chain of ignoring claims that four Nashville-area managers had groped and harassed female employees and waged a campaign to rid the company of older female workers.

The women, who include two teenagers hired as cashiers and several restaurant supervisors, say their bosses at Shoney’s restaurants in Hendersonville and Franklin, Ky., frequently made lewd comments, and propositioned and fondled them and other female employees.

Their treatment came amid a campaign to drive off older, less-attractive female workers, the women say in a series of lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court. They say that campaign fostered a climate in which explicit sexual harassment of employees by male and some female managers was tolerated. Meanwhile, several women in their 30s and 40s either were demoted or fired.

The campaign was devised by a vice president in Shoney’s Nashville headquarters and implemented by a half-dozen men and women midlevel executives working in Middle Tennessee and South Central Kentucky, the suits say.

“(The) plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer from severe distress … caused by the extreme and outrageous conduct of (the) defendants,” according to the women’s complaints. “Such conduct by (the) defendants is so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society.”

Shoney’s officials declined to comment, citing a policy of not speaking about litigation.

Some of the allegations already have been investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a “right to sue” letter in July allowing the plaintiffs to file their case in court.

The EEOC typically issues such letters when the agency’s staff finds insufficient or no evidence that an employer has violated the federal anti-discrimination measures the agency enforces, but an EEOC official would not say Friday whether the commission had ruled out filing its own suit.

The complaints center on actions said to have taken place between late 2004 and December 2005, many of them during the tenure of former Shoney’s Chief Executive Rodger Head, who left the company a year ago.

The women accuse Head of working with Mike Niznik, a Shoney’s vice president, and other subordinates to “get rid of” older female employees and replace them with men and young women.

Two of the suits were filed by women who were hired at age 17 to work as cashiers and greeters at a now-closed Shoney’s in Franklin, Ky. There, they say a manager named John Young frequently touched them without their consent. They also claim that two of the restaurant’s female managers propositioned them for sex.

A third Shoney’s worker in Franklin, Kimberly Millward, a server in her early 40s, says in one of the suits that Young and a female manager repeatedly had propositioned her, too.

Two Shoney’s servers at the chain’s restaurant in Hendersonville, Tammy Johnson and Beth Ann Croslin, say in court documents that they also were sexually harassed. They claim that Davis Daniel, the restaurant’s general manager, repeatedly propositioned them as recently as last December, commented on their bodies and touched them inappropriately, even after they had turned down his advances.

Johnson and Croslins’ suits say that the climate of sexual harassment extended to other workers. They claim that Daniel supported Young after Young was reassigned to Hendersonville in August 2005.

Neither Daniel nor Young still work for Shoney’s, the suits say. The Tennessean was unable to contact either man on Friday.

Broader campaign

The suits say that several senior Shoney’s officials ignored complaints about Daniel’s and Young’s behavior. They also accuse top-level executives of tolerating sexual harassment as part of an effort to weed out older women — particularly those deemed less attractive.

As evidence, they point to a comment that Niznik, the company vice president, is alleged to have made while on a conference call with at least four female Shoney’s managers in April 2005.

“When Niznik began his participation in that conference call, he greeted the female managers with, ‘Good afternoon guys, oh, I mean ladies, I need to get some guys in my area. I’m surrounded by women,’ ” the suit says.

Within a week, one of the women on that call, 42-year-old Sheila Foster, had been fired from her job as general manager of Shoney’s Hendersonville restaurant, court filings say. Foster was told the decision was made by Niznik, according to the suit. She was replaced with Daniel.

Four months later, 46-year-old Nancy Beauchane, an assistant manager at a restaurant in Goodlettsville, also was fired. Again, the suit says Niznik made that decision.

Then in October 2005, Niznik demoted Beauchane’s boss in Goodlettsville, general manager Rebecca Winn, because she had opposed the firing of Beauchane and three other workers, the suits say.

Winn was transferred to Hendersonville, where she reported to Daniel.

 Source: Fairview Observer

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