NEW YORK (AP) _ A beverage importer who popularized the German liqueur Jagermeister by using sexy spokesmodels to promote it in bars and restaurants agreed Thursday to pay $2.6 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the deal with Sidney Frank Importing Co. of New Rochelle, N.Y., and a subsidiary, All State Promotions Inc., during a news conference in Manhattan.
The EEOC is looking for Sidney Frank employees nationwide who believe they were harassed, and plans to divide the settlement money after all candidates have been identified. So far, women have come forward from Texas, California, New York, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida, and Alaska.
Two former ``Jagerettes″ appeared Thursday on behalf of the 100 or so women who have already claimed they were grabbed, groped and even licked by company president Sidney Frank, as well as by customers.
``His idea of being a team player, of making the (boss) happy, was submitting to his sexual advances,″ said 28-year-old Patrice Chase, now of Philadelphia.
Frank was not named personally as a defendant in the case, but he was accused in court papers of grabbing and kissing employees.
Ms. Chase said Frank frequently tried to fondle her and would remind her that she was a single mother dependent on a paycheck from his company.
``I feel like he tried to make a victim of me because I was young,″ Ms. Chase said. ``No job is worth this.″
Crystal Podger, 29, from Hickory, S.C., said she signed on to promote Jagermeister to earn money for college, but then lost the job after refusing Frank’s advances at a dinner party where he appeared in his pajamas.
Many of the women represented by the EEOC also said they were sent to bars and restaurants to promote Jagermeister, but found that bar owners and patrons often expected more.
That is something Sidney Frank Importing should have guarded against, EEOC attorney Louis Graziano said.
In the settlement, the company denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to make substantive changes in the way it handles future complaints.
Executive vice president Debra Posen said making employees comfortable in their work environment is a ``top priority.″
The company is setting up a toll-free, 24-hour hotline to deal with sexual harassment issues, and employees will no longer be required to forfeit their right to monetary damages if they are harassed.
Sidney Frank Importing had previously required employees to submit discrimination and harassment complaints to arbitration, rather than going to court.
The EEOC had sued the company in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on behalf of the workers, whose complaints date back to July of 1993.
The company now employs about 400 Jagerettes in 25 states.