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Chipotle pays $95K to settle with male employee who says female boss sexually harassed him

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Chipotle Mexican Grill is paying a former worker $95,000 in lost wages and damages to settle a case where the man said his female boss sexually harassed him and made his life miserable after he complained.

Austin Melton’s general manager at a Chipotle in San Jose, Calif. allegedly “slapped, groped, and grabbed [his] buttocks and groin area numerous times,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed on his behalf.

The EEOC announced the settlement Tuesday. Apart from the payout to Melton, Chipotle Mexican Grill CMG, -0.61%  will also have to carry out extra anti-harassment training for 27 stores in San Jose and the surrounding area.

The unnamed manager allegedly propositioned Melton, then 22, and used “vegetables to simulate sex acts,” according to the 2017 lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California. She also allegedly sent him and other employees Instagram FB, +0.30%  direct messages of herself clad in her underwear.

The manager allegedly kept a “sex scoreboard” in her office where she tallied which workers had sex the previous night, according to the 2017 lawsuit court papers filed in the Northern District of California. She allegedly ridiculed those who replied ‘no,’ the filing said.

Melton — who worked for the Mexican food chain three years before his April 2015 transfer to the store in question — complained to other staffers and allegedly was ostracized afterward, the EEOC said in its lawsuit.

For example, co-workers once allegedly locked him in a walk-in freezer and Melton escaped through an emergency exit. Another time, they allegedly moved his motorcycle and laughed at him. The general manager allegedly screamed at Melton during a meeting on his harassment complaints and another time, she hit him on the head with a pan, the lawsuit said.

Melton left the job in October 2015 because he was fed up with the treatment, EEOC lawyers said.

Chipotle did not respond to a request for comment. In settlement documents, the company doesn’t admit any liability on Melton’s allegations.

Chipotle is hardly alone as a food service employer facing sexual harassment claims. For example, McDonald’s MCD, +0.49%   is facing a slew of lawsuits in which female workers allege harassment from male bosses. (McDonald’s has said it is implementing training to prevent harassment.)

But one twist on Melton’s case is the fact it’s a man complaining about a woman’s conduct. The EEOC’s statistics show men typically file just over 15% of sexual harassment complaints with the workplace regulator. (Between 2010 and 2018, the share of sexual harassment complaints filed by men remained relatively steady, ranging from 15.9% to 17.8%.)

But EEOC statistics show harassment claims overall are on the rise as the #MeToo movement spotlights the problem with sexually-charged workplace mistreatment — usually carried out by a male superior against a female staffer.

Complaints from men add nuance to the current moment. Some observers point out the accused harassers of men can also be men. Whoever’s stepping out of line, harassment still boils down to an abuse of power and it’s crucial to believe accusers, they note.

In a statement, Melton said, “this was my first job after high school, and it was hard to speak up about the harassment to management and then to the EEOC. But it was the right thing to do. I hope this settlement will help to make the restaurants a better and safer workplace for everyone.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill shares are up more than 86% year to date. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.72%   is up nearly 19% and the S&P 500 SPX, +0.77%   is up more than 24% in that same time.