Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Harassment Against Famous New York City Restaurant

A famous New York City restaurant is named as a defendant in a putative class action lawsuit alleging wage violations, hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and other claims under municipal, state, and federal laws. Soto, et al v. Cafe Lalo, Inc., et al, No. 1:14-cv-07833, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Sep. 26, 2014). Thirteen plaintiffs are alleging a class of female employees who have suffered similar alleged injuries. The complaint focuses on a supervisor who, the plaintiffs claim, subjected numerous female employees to treatment ranging from harassment to assault. Class action sexual harassment lawsuits can be difficult to certify since the plaintiffs must prove conduct that caused harm to all class members in a reasonably consistent manner, but plaintiffs have prevailed in several well-known cases.

The plaintiffs are current and former servers at Cafe Lalo, a Manhattan restaurant made famous by the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. They name a supervisor, who is also allegedly a close friend of the restaurant’s owner, as an individual defendant, claiming that he “treated the restaurant as his own personal dating service.” Id. at 12. He allegedly “aggressively pursue[d]” the plaintiffs and others in whom he had romantic interests, id., and became abusive towards those who rejected his advances. The alleged abusive behavior was mostly verbal, but the plaintiffs claim it became physical at times.

The lawsuit asserts a class of at least 50 people. The plaintiffs must prove to the court, in order to obtain class certification, four elements: that the class is sufficiently large that joining each individual member would be impractical, that the class members have similar claims, that the plaintiffs’ claims are typical of other class members’ claims, and that the plaintiffs can fairly represent the class members’ interests. This can be difficult in a sexual harassment case, but it is possible.

The first sexual harassment lawsuit certified as a class action involved female employees of an iron mine in Minnesota. The case was depicted in the 2005 film North Country. The judge certified the class in 1991, three years after the case was filed. He presided over a bench trial on the question of liability and found the company liable for sexual harassment and certain instances of sex discrimination. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 824 F.Supp. 847 (D. Minn. 1993). A court-appointed special master conducted a trial on damages several years later and awarded an average of only $10,000 to each plaintiff. The Eighth Circuit vacated the special master’s findings and remanded the case for a new trial on damages. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 130 F.3d 1287 (8th Cir. 1997). The following year, the parties settled for $3.5 million.

The complaint in Soto asserts 11 causes of action, five of which involve alleged wage violations. It alleges a hostile work environment against all defendants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); the New York State Human Rights Law, NY Exec Law § 296; and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. The complaint also claims negligent supervision against Cafe Lalo, intentional infliction of emotional distress against the supervisor, and assault against both Cafe Lalo and the supervisor.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys fight for the rights of victims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices in the greater New York City area. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable employee advocate.

More Blog Posts:

Several States Follow New York’s Lead in Extending Sexual Harassment Protections to Unpaid Interns, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 5, 2014
Former Intern Sues New York City Financial Advisor, Firm for Alleged Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 22, 2014
Firefighters Assert Claims for Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 15, 2014

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