Workforce

Taco Bell franchisee Charter Foods sued for sexual harassment

Two women allege the company knowingly hired a registered sex offender, who harassed them when they were 17-year-old high school students.
Taco Bell
Two woman have filed suit against a Taco Bell franchisee, alleging they were sexually harassed on the job by a registered sex offender. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Two women filed lawsuits against Charter Foods, a franchisee of Taco Bell and other quick-service chains, alleging they were sexually harassed by a convicted sex offender who was their co-worker when they were teenagers.

The lawsuits, filed last month in Wood County Circuit Court in West Virginia, allege that Morristown, Tenn.-based Charter Foods hired Bo R. Gehling, a registered sex offender, to work as a shift supervisor at a Taco Bell in Parkersburg, W. Va., the day after he was released from prison for violating his probation.

Charter Foods knew of Gehling’s status as a sex offender, the lawsuit stated, and he repeatedly harassed Madison Jones and Kelsey Wilson, who were then 17 years old, at separate times between 2020 and 2022.

Reached by phone at company headquarters, a Charter Foods representative declined to comment on the pending litigation. Charter Foods, which is owned by NASCAR team owner Bob Jenkins, also operates Long John Silvers, KFC and A&W restaurants in the South and Northeast, according to court documents.

Neither Taco Bell nor parent company Yum Brands are named in the lawsuit.

“I was constantly humiliated by my superior and felt uncomfortable working with him at the Taco Bell restaurant,” Wilson said in a statement, adding that Gehling would touch her inappropriately and invade her personal space, while also making sexually explicit comments. “After making numerous reports and not seeing any changes, I realized Charter Foods did not care about what was happening at the restaurant or to me. They simply turned a blind eye to the dangerous situation I was put in.”

Wilson said Gehling’s actions intensified after she reported his behavior to restaurant management. She eventually left the job.

The lawsuits claim Charter Foods endangered its workers by not conducting criminal background checks, drug and alcohol tests, or a sex offender registry search as part of its hiring process.

Gehling worked the night shifts alongside minors without any additional supervision, according to the lawsuit.

“The core of these lawsuits comes down to not having an effective safety system to protect employees, especially minors, from sexual harassment,” attorney Todd Bailess of Bailess Law Firm, who is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Rehiring a known sex offender the day after he was released from prison and allowing him to supervise minors is reckless, jeopardizing the safety of Taco Bell’s employees and customers.”

The plaintiffs are seeking jury trials, as well as unspecified punitive damages.

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