California Employment Law: Starbucks settles workplace sexual harassment lawsuit

06/07/2010 // West Palm Beach, Florida, USA // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan

Sacramento, CA—Starbucks Coffee Company has agreed to settle a harassment lawsuit, in which a former barista alleged she was pressed with incessant sexual demands from her manager at only 16 years of age. The settlement came only a few weeks prior to the scheduled trial, according to a June 4, 2010 ABC News report.

Kati Moore was only 16-years-old when employed as a barista at a California-based Starbucks coffee shop. Moore, now 20, contended Tim Horton, her 24-year-old supervisor, would send her inappropriate text messages on a daily basis. For instance, one of hundreds of unruly messages read, “I’d like to f— tomorrow.”

Moore accused Starbucks of failing to protect her from the daily workplace harassment. She also asserted her other Starbucks supervisors were conscious of the illicit activity, yet carelessly kept quiet about the matter.

When Moore’s mother found out about the relationship between her underage daughter and the Starbucks supervisor, she alerted prosecutors. Horton initially claimed he was unaware of the fact that Moore was indeed only 16-years-old.

However, he eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of illegal sex with a minor. He served four months in prison for the offense.

Moore’s case was even featured in a “20/20” investigation concerning teenage victims of workplace sexual harassment. Dr. Susan Strauss, a sexual harassment expert interviewed during the report, noted that such workplace issues are not unusual. The problems can be especially common in fast food restaurants where many teens become employed for the first time. “They’re vulnerable, they’re young, they’re new to the workforce,” Strauss said.

According to a study conducted in Maine, one in three high school students reported experiencing unwarranted sexual advances in the workplace.

Starbucks also issued the following statement when the “20/20” report was first aired:

“These two employees concealed their relationship from Starbucks, which violated company policy. We are confident that the case will ultimately be resolved in finding that Starbucks is not at fault.”

Though Moore sought out the establishment of a policy to protect teenagers from on-the-job sexual harassment, it was not stated if such a policy would be enacted. Specifics regarding the settlement were not released.

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan- Legal News for California Employment Lawyers.

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