EEOC works to inform youth about employee rights


Posted: Sept. 24, 2004

In response to increasing teen complaints about sexual harassment and discriminatory practices at fast food restaurants, retailers and other first-time jobs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched a new effort to inform young workers about their rights.

EEOC Commissioner Leslie E. Silverman discussed the measure, "Youth at Work," during a speech Monday at Marquette University on employment issues.

1. It includes a Web site (, spots on MTV, chat rooms, programs at high schools and partnerships with restaurant associations and others to apprise teens of what's legal and illegal in the workplace, she said.

The program was developed after EEOC commissioners began noticing some very egregious charges, such as sexual and racial harassment, from workers who were 15-18 years old.

"We realized this is a pretty important issue," Silverman said. "How devastating will it be to be sexually harassed on your first job? How will it make a woman feel about the work force or how will it make an individual feel about themselves?"

One aim of the American with Disabilities Act, for example, is to get people to earn a part-time job in high school so they can feel good about themselves, she added. "If we don't open these roads and make sure everything is OK, we've got a problem."

One of the difficulties facing working teens is that often their managers are not much older than the workers, she said, and because of high turnover, it's hard to train the supervisors.

"The rules that are used in school and the way they often treat each other in school doesn't fly in the workplace and may be illegal," she said.

Some of the EEOC cases listed on the youth Web site include two young men who reported sexual harassment at a New Jersey grocery store. The EEOC sued and the case is pending.

In another case, a 19-year-old manager was accused of harassing a 16-year-old employee at a Pennsylvania Mexican restaurant. In July 2003, the case was settled with a $150,000 payment to the worker, $1,500 to the EEOC to educate teen workers in the food industry about sexual harassment and a requirement that the restaurant train all of its employees about sexual harassment.

1. Silverman said the EEOC has voted to set up a National Contact Center pilot project to handle unsolicited calls for general information so EEOC staff can focus on intake, investigation, litigation, and outreach, she said.

It had been rumored that the Milwaukee EEOC field office might close, but Silverman said she's not seen anything regarding that and that she believes plans to reduce the field offices have been put on hold.


From the Sept. 25, 2004, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel