Harassment

Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp

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The New York City Bar Association will hold the CLE program “Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp” on March 24. The program will focus on the corporate, real estate, liquor license, and labor/employment issues involved in opening a restaurant in New York City. Speakers on the panel include Jack Gordon, partner at Kent, Beatty & Gordon LLP; Carolyn Richmond, partner at Fox Rothschild LLP; Sonal Shah, General Counsel of Ark Restaurant Group; Alex Victor, partner at Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron LLP; and Larry A. Welch, Associate at Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP.  Lou Pechman will be chairing the event. For more information on the program please visit the event page.

Texas Roadhouse to Pay $1.4M to Settle Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit

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A Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Columbus, Ohio will pay $1.4 million to settle a class sexual harassment suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). EEOC had charged the restaurant with victimizing a group of female employees as young as 17 years old by subjecting them to sexual harassment and then retaliating against them for complaining.

According to EEOC’s lawsuit, the manager of the restaurant in the Reynoldsburg section of Columbus, Eric Price, harassed women and teen girls working in server, hostess and other front-of-the-house positions. In the suit, EEOC identified 12 victims of his abuse who suffered unwelcome touching, humiliating remarks about their and other females’ bodies and sexuality, and pressure for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits or as a condition of avoiding adverse employment action. EEOC charged that the harassment began in 2007, continued for over three and a half years until the manager was fired in May 2011, and was coupled with retaliation against employees who opposed the abuse.

Although the companies’ owners and individuals with high-level authority received multiple complaints about the manager’s abusive conduct throughout his employment, they failed to take prompt, effective action to put a stop to the abuse, EEOC said. Price was not fired until May 2011, when he was seen on a surveillance video touching a 17-year-old female employee in his office at the restaurant during work hours, the agency charged.

Harassment and discrimination based on sex violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII also forbids employers from firing or otherwise retaliating against an employee because she complained about discriminatory conduct. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. East Columbus Host, LLC d/b/a Texas Roadhouse and Ultra Steak, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-1696) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

On Sept. 2, U.S. District Court Judge James L. Graham issued an order denying East Columbus Host and Ultra Steak’s motion for summary judgment on EEOC’s sexual harassment claims. He found that EEOC had presented sufficient evidence to overcome the motion. In rejecting the employers’ argument that they had established an affirmative defense because some of Price’s victims allegedly delayed or failed to complain, Judge Graham held that questions remained regarding the companies’ efforts to stop any sexually harassing behavior.

Referring to evidence that previous complaints had been made against the restaurant manager, the court noted that EEOC had described a pattern of complaints, including evidence that “less than a month into his tenure, Price made sexual remarks to … [a] high school-aged hostess … [who] did complain, and the only response she got was not from the corporate office, but from the very person she feared: Eric Price,” who told her “not to get other people involved if she had a problem.” A jury, Judge Graham held, “could see this as the first failure in a long line of tepid responses in the face of near-constant complaints, bookended by sexual harassment of teenage girls.” The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that EEOC had failed to conciliate its claims against them as required by Title VII.

In addition to the $1.4 million in monetary relief to the victims, the five-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit requires the companies to offer reinstatement to injured women identified by EEOC in agreed locations and positions. The decree prohibits the companies from rehiring the offending manager.

The decree further requires East Columbus Host and Ultra Steak to put in place an electronic recordkeeping system to track all gender discrimination and retaliation complaints of any kind and includes mandatory reporting of any allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory adverse employment action, such as failure to hire or promote.

Further, the companies must provide training to all employees on discrimination and retaliation. Supervisory, management, and human resources personnel are to be trained on their duty to monitor the work environment; how to receive and investigate complaints of harassment or discrimination; and how to respond to complaints effectively with corrective action. East Columbus Host and Ultra Steak also are required to report to EEOC on how they handle any internal complaints of gender discrimination or retaliation, and they must post a notice about the settlement at all restaurants covered by the decree.

EEOC recently updated its [email protected] website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/), which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. The website also contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce.

Westchester County Dunkin’ Donuts Settles Sex Harassment Lawsuit for $150,000

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A Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee in Westchester County, NY will pay $150,000 to former workers to settle a sex harassment lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Hillcrest Marshall, a franchise which owns multiple Dunkin’ Donuts locations. The lawsuit claimed that the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee violated federal law by subjecting female employees, some of whom were in their teens at the time, to sexual harassment by a store manager at one of its stores. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, among other things, the store manager talked about his genitals, tried to kiss a female worker who was 20 years old at the time, and pressured her to have sex. After she rejected him, the manager regularly hit, cursed and yelled at her. When she contacted the police, she was terminated in retaliation for resisting his advances.

Under the terms of the consent decree settling the suit, Hillcrest Marshall ceased to employ the manager and agreed not to rehire him. In addition to payment of $150,000 to the harassment victims, Hillcrest Marshall will train the managers at all of their stores of their obligations under the law; institute strong anti-discrimination and complaint policies for all of its employees; and designate a senior manager to receive all complaints of discrimination and harassment.

 

Memphis Cheddar’s Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $450,000

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Cheddar’s Casual Café, a casual dining restaurant chain, will pay $450,000 to fifteen workers and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charged that Cheddar’s violated federal law by maintaining a hostile work environment at its Winchester Road restaurant in Memphis by permitting sexual conversations and jokes and by allowing a general manager and bar manager to subject several female employees to sexual harassment. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, among other things, Cheddar’s male managers made requests for sexual favors and explicit sexual comments, and subjected female employees to unwelcome touching. The lawsuit further alleged that despite having received complaints from its female employees, Cheddar’s did not respond to those complaints in a prompt and appropriate manner.

Besides the monetary relief, the consent decree settling the suit includes:

  • mandatory anti-harassment training;
  • maintenance of workplace cameras;
  • monitoring workplace behavior;
  • notice of the settlement to Cheddar’s employees in its Memphis restaurant; and
  • reporting future complaints of sexual harassment to EEOC for three years.

“Having and disseminating an anti-harassment policy does not satisfy federal prohibitions against sexual harassment,” said Regional Attorney Faye Williams. “Employers must also enforce it. When an employer allows its managers to abuse its female employees in these ways and allows a sexually hostile work environment to persist, it is obviously not enforcing its anti-harassment policy. An unenforced policy is tantamount to having no policy at all.”

Dunkin’ Donuts Charged With Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

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A Dunkin Donuts store manager tormented young female staff and terminated a worker who opposed sexual harassment according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The sex harassment and retaliation lawsuit claims that a franchisee of Dunkin’ Donuts with multiple stores and one office/kitchen in Westchester County, N.Y., subjected young female workers to sexual harassment by a manager since at least 2011. The lawsuit charged the company with unlawfully firing a female worker for opposing the sexual harassment and calling the police. According to EEOC’s suit against Hillcrest Marshall, Inc., the store manager’s harassment included making sexual comments and propositions, such as saying almost daily that he wanted to have a “threesome” with the women, many of whom were in their teens. The manager talked about his genitals, tried to kiss a female worker, and pressured a female worker to have sex. Frustrated with one worker’s rejection of his sexual advances, the manager smacked her face, cursed and yelled at her regularly and sent her home several times in the middle of her shift. When she contacted the police, she was fired.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not subject employees to a hostile work environment because of sex and cannot retaliate against employees for resisting or making complaints. The lawsuit seeks monetary relief for the affected workers, as well as relief meant to remedy and prevent future harassment or retaliation at the company. In his comments about the sex harassment lawsuit New York District Director Kevin Berry stated, “It took a great deal of courage for these young women to come forward and speak up against the manager who had power over their livelihood. Employers need to implement strong policies so that victims can report sexual harassment without reprisal.” The EEOC trial attorney assigned to the case added that, “Targeting teenaged female workers is especially inexcusable. Our most vulnerable workers must be protected against sexual advances at work.”

Sex Harassment Case Filed Against Johnny Utah’s Restaurant

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Johnny Utah’s has been hit with a complaint alleging sexual harassment, as well as minimum wage and overtime violations, tip theft, and spread of hours violations of the New York Labor Law and Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Complaint, filed on behalf of eight waitress at against Johnny Utah’s Rockefeller Center location in New York federal court, alleges the Midtown restaurant, which is advertised as a “wild west party” and known for its mechanical bull, subjected its female servers to unwanted sexual conduct such as inappropriate touching, comments, and propositions. The lawsuit alleges that among other things, servers were expected to flirt with patrons, ride the bar’s mechanical bull shirtless, and kiss other female servers. The waitresses and bartenders were expected to take shots with and sit on the laps of male customers and were told to ignore any unwanted touching. Any employee who complained was assigned fewer shifts or was terminated.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the servers did not receive the minimum wage, overtime, and “spread of hours” pay they were lawfully entitled to receive. According to the lawsuit, employees regularly worked 60 to 70 hours per week but were only paid for 40 hours of work. Servers also were required to share their tips with managers and their tip money was often withheld to cover cash register shortages.

Lawyers for the workers are seeking to recover minimum wages, overtime compensation, spread-of-hours pay, misappropriated tips, uniform-related expenses, unlawful deductions, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Long Island Restaurant Held Liable for “Appalling Sexual Abuse”

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Three sisters who were subjected to sexual harassment at Ayhan’s Fish Kebab Restaurant on Long Island are entitled to damages, according to a decision by New York federal court judge William F. Kuntz.  The lawsuit against Ayhan’s was brought by three hostesses, all sisters, who were subjected to “appalling sexual abuse” at the restaurant.

Judge Kuntz found that there were numerous incidents of sex harassment at the restaurant, including male employees making lewd remarks to the women and touching their arms, legs and buttocks.  In the most flagrant example of harassment, one of the sisters was grabbed in a bear hug in July 2008 by a cook who groped her.  The cook halted the attack when a busboy came down to the basement.  In October 2008, the cook was convicted of felony attempted sexual abuse, served 4 months in jail and was deported.

Benihana Sued For Wage Pay Violations and Unlawful Retaliation

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A former chef at a Benihana restaurant in Florida has sued the popular restaurant chain alleging that the restaurant forces its chefs to work without pay, failed to pay overtime, and unlawfully shared the chefs’ tips with non-tipped employees.

The Complaint, filed in Florida federal court, claims that the company illegally deducts money from the chef’s tips to share them with employees who are not entitled to receive tips.  The lawsuit also claims that the restaurant denies its chefs overtime pay.  The former chef alleges that the company harassed him after he complained about the illegal pay practices and he was ultimately forced to quit because the employer had made working conditions unbearable.

The lawsuit seeks lost wages, reinstatement, retaliation damages and attorneys’ fees as a result of the workers rights violations.

Baltimore Italian Restaurants Sued For Sex Harassment by EEOC

Italian restaurants Basta Pasta in Maryland have been sued for sexual harassment and retaliation.  According to the federal court lawsuit filed the by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Maryland restaurants, the owner repeatedly harassed his female workers, some of whom were teenagers, by touching them on their buttocks, lower backs and shoulders, rubbing his genitalia against their buttocks, leering at them and making comments about their bodies, including calling them “sexy” or “hot,” making sexually suggestive remarks and crude sexual innuendos, and asking for massages.

The lawsuit also claims that the owner of the restaurants pressured female employees to have alcoholic drinks at the end of their shifts and, in one instance, gave one female employee so much alcohol that she passed out and later vomited, causing the worker to believe that the owner drugged her in an attempt to sexually assault her.  The complaint also alleges that in another instance the owner took another female employee to his house purportedly to talk about a management opportunity.  Instead the worker believes she was drugged and sexually assaulted by the restaurant owner. Two workers claim that the sexual harassment was so unbearable that they quit their jobs.

Attorneys for the EEOC claim that the company failed to take corrective measures after the restaurant manager complained about the owner’s sexually offensive behavior and eventually fired her in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment.  According to the lawsuit, the restaurant also threatened the manager when she participated in the EEOC investigation and pressured her to recant her testimony.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment and forbids employers from retaliating against employees who make complaints about sexual harassment or discrimination.  The EEOC is seeking, among other things, injunctive relief prohibiting Basta Pasta from engaging in sexual harassment or retaliation, as well as lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages.

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