New York Restaurant Settles Lawsuit Brought by EEOC, Former Waiter Alleging Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment

A famous New York City restaurant entered into a settlement agreement in November 2012 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a former waiter. The EEOC and the waiter had sued the restaurant in a Manhattan federal court, alleging that managers at the restaurant sexually harassed multiple male employees over the course of about eight years. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n, et al v. Michael Cetta, Inc., No. 2:09-cv-10601, 2nd am. complaint (S.D.N.Y., Oct. 28, 2011). The settlement included a cash payment, reforms to employment policies, and an agreement to suspend, but not dismiss, the lawsuit. The suspension of the suit allows the plaintiffs the opportunity to enforce the settlement agreement in the same cause if necessary.

Jonatan Aksal reported to the EEOC that he and at least twenty-one other male employees of Sparks Steak House in Manhattan had been subjected to sexual harassment by male co-workers and managers. The harassment allegedly began as early as October 2000 and continued for a period of about eight years. Managers and other employees of the restaurant, according to the EEOC, physically harassed male employees by grabbing or pinching their buttocks, attempting to touch their genital areas, and pushing their own genitals into employees’ buttocks. Verbal harassment included overt sexual references and propositions.

Aksal and the EEOC also alleged that Sparks retaliated against male employees who objected to or complained about sexual harassment, beginning around March 2007. Managers allegedly gave preferred shifts and job assignments to male waiters who did not complain about harassment, and subjected waiters who complained about the harassment, particularly those who participated in the EEOC’s investigation, to stricter discipline than other waiters. Male waiters who persisted in objecting to the harassment were threatened with termination.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Aksal and “a class of other similarly situated male waiters,” am. complaint at 3, on December 30, 2009. The lawsuit alleges that Sparks violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, first by discriminating against male waiters based on their gender, and then by retaliating against the waiters who complained of the discrimination. Federal law, along with state and city law in New York, treat sexual harassment as a form of unlawful gender discrimination. The EEOC sought injunctions and remedial orders requiring Sparks to enact policies aimed at eradicating unlawful discrimination, and back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for Aksal and the other waiters.

In a consent decree filed with the court on November 15, 2012, the defendant agreed to pay $600,000 and undertake several reforms to its policies in order to settle the lawsuit. The restaurant must update its sexual harassment policy, provide anti-discrimination training for employees, and maintain a hotline where employees can report allegations of discrimination and other unlawful conduct. The restaurant did not admit to any wrongdoing, but told the Associated Press that it wished to avoid any additional expenses or bad press. The court placed the case on the suspense docket rather than dismiss it, based on a request not to dismiss for three-and-a-half years in case of a need to enforce provisions of the consent decree.

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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