Church’s Chicken is facing a federal discrimination complaint and a lawsuit for alleged sexual harassment by an executive at its Sandy Springs headquarters. The woman making the complaint is represented by attorney Tamara Holder, a former Fox News contributor who was recently in the news for the settlement of her own sexual assault complaint there.
Church’s Chicken, a fast-food chain based at 980 Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs, said in a written statement that it acknowledged the executive’s “conduct” and already terminated him, but was surprised by the complaint filing because it already has a “binding settlement” with the woman.
“Sexual harassment at the hands of top corporate executives must come to an end,” Holder said in an email about her client’s complaint. “From major news networks to Uber to major record labels, women are finally standing up and speaking out against the abuse and the people who are complicit in allowing it to occur. No woman should feel she is going to be raped at work. No woman should be afraid to report because these men have all of the power. My client is steadfast in seeking a resolution and ending the culture of abuse at Church’s Chicken.”
In Church’s statement, provided by spokesperson Kim Miller, the company said it had already investigated and responded.
“At Church’s Chicken, we are committed to the respectful treatment of everyone,” the statement reads. “There is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind in any workplace, ever. We take reports of harassment very seriously. In this case, we investigated as soon as we learned of the issue and took immediate and appropriate action. The person responsible for the conduct was terminated and we have conducted additional respectful workplace training for our entire headquarters team. Further, we agreed to a binding settlement with the person who filed the claim, so we are perplexed by the filing at the EEOC.”
Holder said the employee had a previous attorney, whom Church’s offered a payment amounting to approximately $3,000 for the employee. Holder said Church’s is referring to that deal as the “binding settlement,” but that no settlement or signed agreement was made and the employee did not accept any payment.
“They did not settle,” Holder said about Church’s. “[The employee] had a prior attorney and they offered her to settle. She refused. They aren’t perplexed.”
The employee, a 24-year-old woman, filed a formal discrimination complaint last week with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to Holder. Holder said the lawsuit is nearly ready for filing as well.
According to a press release, the woman was “subjected to incessant harassment by a senior-level male executive” for five months. Neither the woman nor the executive are named.
“Rather than refer to her by name, he called her ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie,’” the press release says. “Additionally, the married father would touch her and suggest they ‘go to Vegas to get into trouble.’ The woman inquired about his behavior, and her colleagues made it clear they were complicit in his behavior, saying things like, ‘That’s just the way he is.’”
According to a partially redacted version of the EEOC complaint provided by Holder, the alleged harassment occurred from Dec. 7, 2016 — shortly after the woman was hired — through April 10 of this year, when she resigned due to the executive’s behavior.
The EEOC complaint describes a number of sexual harassment incidents and comments. The employee says that within two days of starting work, another employee warned her that the executive “will touch all over you.” The executive soon began making comments about her appearance and brushed against her, then later joked, “You can run, but you can’t hide,” the statement says.
The complaint quotes the executive as saying on another occasion, “You cannot wear that dress again, it’s too distracting….I feel like a dirty old man.”
The executive continued with such behaviors after the woman made it clear they were unwelcome, the complaint says. In February, the employee says, she complained to a woman employed as a member of Church’s human resources department, only to hear that he had made similar comments to her.
The woman who filed the complaint said she feared the executive might “try to sleep with me or rape me” and that she suffered stress-induced vomiting. When the company changed its dress code to “super casual,” the employee says, she started dressing down to “do everything in my power to be as unattractive and unappealing as possible,” but the executive continued his comments and behaviors.
Holder said the executive is also “involved” in other lawsuits accusing Church’s of negligence for an incident last year at one of its restaurants in Livingston, Texas, where the kitchen floor collapsed, trapping employees in a hole while hot cooking oil poured onto them.