An Upstate New York’s Settlement with the EEOC Serves as Reminder of the Continued Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Many studies agree that sexual harassment is a widespread problem in the restaurant industry. Last summer, around the same time that celebrity chef Mario Batali agreed to settle a case brought by the New York Attorney General, NPR reported that a 2021 study from Social Science Research Solutions found that 71% of female restaurant workers had experienced some degree of sexual harassment on the job. For female tipped workers, the number was even higher, at 76%. If you’ve endured harassment in your restaurant work, you don’t have to be quiet and tolerate it. Instead, you can take action by getting in touch with a knowledgeable New York City sexual harassment lawyer to discuss and go over your legal options.

Undeniably, workplace harassment is damaging to its victims. On top of the harassment itself, speaking out against harassment comes with its own separate set of problems, mainly retaliation. Complaining about inappropriate comments, jokes, or sexual advances, whether perpetrated by coworkers, supervisors, or customers, potentially can cost some women their jobs. For those living “paycheck to paycheck,” a sudden and unplanned job loss like that can be catastrophic.

This harassment is almost always more than just an intemperate remark or a few slightly problematic jokes. Take, for example, the sexual harassment case of R.C. and several other female workers at a Rochester restaurant.

R.C.’s harasser was the head chef and kitchen manager who, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asserted, made “inappropriate physical contact” with female workers and also made “explicit requests for sex.” In addition, the chef allegedly “repeated sexually inappropriate, hostile, and offensive comments” to the women.

Complaint Alleged Licking, Fondling, Grabbing, and Nonconsensual Kissing

These very polite and professional descriptions don’t quite do the case justice, and don’t really offer a clear picture of what these women allegedly endured. In its federal court complaint, the EEOC laid out the misconduct in greater detail. The agency asserted that the chef sexually assaulted one woman “by licking her ear, grabbing her genitals, and forcing his tongue down her throat.” After she complained to the owner and the general manager, they failed to take appropriate steps, so she quit as she could no longer deal with the chef, according to the lawsuit.

Then there was the harassment of a bartender. According to the lawsuit, the chef grabbed that woman’s breasts and buttocks, forcibly touched her, tried to kiss her against her will, and told her he wanted to have sex with her (but described the desired action with a four-letter vulgarism instead of saying “have sex.”)

For R.C., the alleged harassment included fielding questions from the chef like “when am I going to get some,” comments like “you know you like it rough,” and actions like “reaching into his pants with both hands and grabbing his genitals in [R.C.’s] presence” and “thrusting his genitals” against R.C.’s body.

One of the essential aspects of any successful sexual harassment case against an employer is proof that the employer knew (or reasonably should have known) about the harasser’s activities but did not take appropriate action in response. The EEOC asserted that R.C. complained to the owner and general manager, but no one took proper steps to end the harassment.

She also allegedly suffered retaliation “in the form of unfair discipline and interference with customer orders.” Another woman allegedly fared worse, getting fired after she complained about the chef to managerial employees.

After the EEOC sued in federal court, the restaurant hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations. That eventually led to a settlement, which the EEOC announced on July 12. The settlement calls for the employer to pay $60,000 in back pay and other damages to the women who endured the harassment.

As the director of the EEOC’s New York district office pointed out, “Unfortunately, sexual harassment remains prevalent in the restaurant industry.” Legal actions — whether by the EEOC or by the workers harmed by that illegal conduct — are a necessary part of holding wrongdoers accountable and working toward eradicating harassment in the workplace.

Women seeking to pursue a career and/or support their families in the restaurant industry shouldn’t have to navigate sexual harassment as part of that employment process. Too often, however, that’s exactly what women in the industry face. If you have encountered that type of misconduct at your place of employment, reach out to the knowledgeable New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. We have helped countless women — and men — in New York City and the surrounding areas who have suffered harm due to workplace sexual harassment. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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