EEOC Sues Restaurant’s Hawaiian Location for Sexual Harassment of Female Staff

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently amended a lawsuit against a restaurant alleging sexual harassment, retaliation, and disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC v. La Rana, LLC, No. 1:11-cv-00799 (D. Haw., Nov. 1, 2012). The lawsuit accuses managers and executives of the now-closed Señor Frog’s location in Waikiki of sexual harassment against female employees. After the court granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the EEOC filed an amended complaint purportedly curing several defects.

The defendant La Rana, LLC operated a Señor Frog’s restaurant location in the Waikiki area of Honolulu, Hawaii. The restaurant chain has locations in several U.S. cities, as well as in Mexico and the Caribbean. It fosters a reputation as a restaurant and bar for people on vacation, with an associated atmosphere of revelry. Another defendant, Altres, Inc., was retained by La Rana between approximately June 2007 and December 2008 to provide human resources services, according to the EEOC’s complaint. The Señor Frog’s location operated by La Rana opened in 2007 and closed in August 2012.

A female employee of the restaurant reportedly made a complaint to the EEOC in April 2008, alleging daily sexual harassment by restaurant managers and company executives. Managers allegedly groped female workers, exposed themselves, made lewd and inappropriate sexual comments, and demanded sexual activity on an almost daily basis. Female bartenders alleged that managers asked them to serve “body shots” off of female servers, hostesses, and customers. Some managers allegedly encouraged underage female employees to drink alcohol with them, with the understanding that they wanted to get the employees drunk so they would have sex with them. They further alleged that managers instructed at least two employees to engage in sexual activity, possibly including sexual intercourse, with high-level La Rana executives.

The EEOC filed suit against La Rana, Altres, and several unnamed individuals on behalf of a class of female hostesses, servers, and bartenders in December 2011. Altres filed a motion to dismiss in early 2012, alleging that the EEOC had not complied with its duty to attempt conciliation before filing suit, and that this deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction. The court granted the motion to dismiss in part, staying the proceedings until the parties could attempt conciliation, after giving the EEOC until November 1, 2012 to file an amended complaint. After engaging it what it called “good faith attempts at conciliation,” am. complaint at 8, the EEOC re-filed on the day of the deadline.

The lawsuit asserts several causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on a variety of factors including gender. The amended complaint demands compensatory and punitive damages, restitution, and injunctive relief. Sexual harassment is considered a form of gender-based harassment under federal law, as well as under anti-discrimination laws at both the city and state levels in New York. The case is very similar to the many cases of alleged sexual harassment that occur in New York City restaurants, which unfortunately seem particularly prone to workplace harassment and inappropriate behavior.

The lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in New York City and surrounding areas, fighting to protect their rights at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (866) 229-9441.

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