CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A man with autism who washed dishes during the night shift at a Golden Corral restaurant in Matthews was targeted with sexualized verbal harassment by his boss before being sexually assaulted on the job, according to a new lawsuit by the federal government.

The workplace abuse went on for more than a year at the restaurant on East Independence Boulevard before the employee told his mother what he had been enduring, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says.

The federal agency, which handles complaints of workplace harassment, says a male assistant manager verbally harangued the employee with lewd and insulting comments, ranging from soliciting sex acts to insulting the worker’s intelligence before sexually groping him in 2016.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“All employees, men and women alike, are entitled to a workplace free from sexual harassment,” Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for the Charlotte District of the EEOC, said in a statement after the filing of the complaint. “Likewise, all employees have the right to work without being harassed due to their disabilities. It is particularly alarming when harassment is perpetrated by a supervisor.”

The Golden Corral franchise in Matthews is owned by Jax LLC of Charlotte. Company owner Ed Manns, did not immediately respond to an email from The Charlotte Observer seeking comment Monday.

The company’s attorney, Keith Weddington of Charlotte, said Jax denies the allegations and looks forward to addressing them during the trial. Likewise, a corporate spokesman for Golden Corral said Monday that the company does not comment on pending legal matters involving one of its franchise owners.

The government complaint alleges that the company violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC says it unsuccessfully tried earlier this year to negotiate a settlement with Jax LLC that would have stopped the abuse and compensated the employee.

Now, the EEOC has turned to the courts. It is asking for an array of damages in the employee’s behalf — with the amounts to be set by a jury — along with a permanent court injunction ordering the company to eliminate a hostile workplace.

The lawsuit does not name the manager in question but does identify the employee. A government spokeswoman said it is EEOC policy not to identify persons accused of harassment until after the name comes up during a court appearance. The Charlotte Observer does not publish the names of victims of sexual assault.

The complaint says the harassment began shortly after the dishwasher was hired in late February 2014. In the lawsuit, Yolanda Brock, a local EEOC trial attorney, said the employee has “high functioning autism,” a disability that is “open and obvious” and was known to his employer.

The employee did his job well, the government says. Yet, according to the complaint, the assistant manager, often the only one on duty during the night shift, regularly referred to him as “retard” and “stupid.”

The sexual harassment began also around the same time, the suit says. At least once a week, according to the complaint, the manager confronted his employee with graphic terms soliciting sodomy and oral sex while also regularly asking: “Do you wanna get fired?”

Despite the employee’s complaints, the manager also used a litany of profane, sexual and racial slurs around him, the lawsuit says. In several instances, according to the suit, the boss pinched the employee’s rear.

On the night of Jan. 9, 2016, the assistant manager used his thumb to sexually assault the employee, later telling him: “Don’t bother coming in tomorrow,” the complaint says.

After the assault, the employee asked to be moved to the day shift so he could avoid his boss, the government says. On Jan. 16, his first day back at Golden Corral, the assistant manager also worked the day shift.

According to the complaint, when the employee went outside to empty some garbage, the assistant manager followed him. There, according to the complaint, the boss crudely solicited oral sex.

The employee left work after making up an excuse that he was about to get sick to his stomach. Later that day, he finally let his mother know about what had been happening at work, the complaint says.

Afterward, the parents brought their son back to Golden Corral to file a complaint with the manager and district manager of the company. The family then filed a police report, the complaint says. It’s unclear if charges were filed.

The son never returned to Golden Corral.

© 2017 The Charlotte Observer
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC