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.
In an important case out of Baltimore, Maryland, the Court found that Jason Zink, the owner of two Baltimore taverns could not share in the tip pool of the bartenders, even though he also worked as a bartender.
In addition to operating and supervising the “Don’t Know Tavern” and the “No Idea Tavern,” Zink worked as a bartender, serving drinks to and conversing with the patrons, at the two establishments. In conjunction with his working as a bartender, Zink received tips from tavern patrons and contributed those tips to a collective “tip pool” that was subsequently divided up among the bartenders according to a formula that takes into account the number of hours worked by each bartender. Zink, in what appeared to be his primary mode of compensation from his tavern businesses, shared in the tip pool with the other bartenders according to the formula.
The bartenders who worked for Zink contended that, although Zink frequently worked alongside the other bartenders and contributed to the collective tip pool, he was prohibited form retaining any of those tips as a result of his status as the owner of the Taverns. Essentially, the other bartenders argued that because Zink is the owner of the Taverns, he is precluded from receiving tips from the tip pool while simultaneously taking a “tip credit” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law.
In his Memorandum Opinion, United States District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett pointed out that Zink is unquestionably an “employer” under the FLSA. Judge Bennett found that there was no need to evaluate the extent of Zink’s bartending activities because it would be “anathema to the purpose behind the FLSA to simultaneously allow him to take tips from a collective tip pool that was set up to allow him to pay his employees at a rate substantially below the minimum wage.” As the sole owner of the Taverns, Zink was essentially the sole beneficiary of the “tip credit” provision of the FLSA. As such, he was prohibited from participating in the tip pool at the Taverns. According to Judge Bennett, “a contrary finding, allowing an owner to participate in a tip pool, would broaden the FLSA’s tip credit provisions to a point where they would become meaningless.”