A New York City Worker’s Case Against a Supervisor’s Unwelcome ‘Hands On’ Conduct and Comments Survives Summary Judgment

Statistical research has clearly shown that sexual harassment is widespread in the restaurant and foodservice industry. Of all Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims, more than one-third (37%) are claims submitted by restaurant workers. Certainly, one of the factors fueling that number is the financial insecurity many food service workers live with, but don’t let that stop you from speaking up if you’ve been harmed by sexual harassment. Instead, reach out to a knowledgeable New York City sexual harassment lawyer today and find out what legal steps you may be able to take.

M.W. was a food service worker who, according to his lawsuit, endured some very demeaning and terrible forms of sexual harassment during his time working at the Freedom Tower in Manhattan. The Brooklyn man alleged that the perpetrator of his sexual harassment was his supervisor.

Sexual harassment can occur in multiple forms, including unwelcome touching and inappropriate comments or jokes. M.W. allegedly endured both forms of harassment.

One instance involved the supervisor’s effort to reach into M.W.’s left front pants pocket, ostensibly to grab M.W.’s cell phone. According to the complaint, instead of grabbing the phone, the supervisor attempted to grab M.W.’s genitals.

On a later date, the supervisor allegedly attempted to forcibly take M.W.’s cell phone from him “by holding on to” M.W.’s hand. That was not the only time the supervisor “tried to forcefully remove the plaintiff’s phone from his hand.”

Then there were the comments. Allegedly, the manager once took a banana and opined that the banana “looks like a Jamaican banana, so big and juicy. I like Jamaican bananas, they are always big and juicy.” To M.W., a man of Jamaican ancestry, the implication was clear: the supervisor was not really talking about bananas, but rather M.W.’s genitals. This allegedly caused the worker to feel a great deal of shame and humiliation.

On a later date, the supervisor allegedly “told him to remove a towel from his back pocket because” of the size of his buttocks, and that M.W. needed to “lose weight” and was “getting too fat inside there.” Additionally, when M.W. spoke to a co-worker, the supervisor allegedly accused him of “flirting with a man.”

According to the lawsuit, M.W. reported the supervisor’s harassment to the employer’s human resources department but that the man within human resources was dismissive of his complaint. In the end, the employer allegedly undertook no investigation, took no disciplinary action against the supervisor, and forced M.W. to continue working with that supervisor.

The Importance of Proof of Inaction in Your Case Against Your Employer

Those kinds of allegations can be critical to your case. For many victims of workplace sexual harassment, getting justice means not just holding your harasser liable, but also holding your employer liable for failing to prevent or stop the harassment. These allegations of indifference by the employer’s human resources department would (if proven true) be an important element in strengthening the liability claim against the employer.

M.W.’s lawsuit alleged sexual harassment in violation of both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. The NYSHRL and the NYCHRL each impose different standards for establishing a violation. To have a winning state law claim, you have to show that your “workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to… create an abusive work environment.”

The hurdle erected by the NYCHRL is lower. That law says that a violation occurs if the victim can establish that he/she was “treated ‘less well than other employees’ because of a characteristic protected by the NYCHRL, such as race, religion, or gender.” Keep in mind that, even if you and your harasser are of the same gender, the harassment your harasser engaged in can still be “because of… gender” if the harassment was related to sexuality (like the sort of conduct M.W. alleged.)

In M.W.’s case, the instances he alleged were enough, if proven true, to establish an abusive work environment for which both the supervisor and the employer could be liable under both the state law and the city law. This meant that the employer was not entitled to the summary judgment it sought and M.W. was entitled to continue pursuing his case.

Here in New York City, there are multiple laws out there that potentially can protect you if you’ve endured sexual harassment on the job. Don’t wait to take action. Reach out to the skilled and diligent New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates today. Contact us online or by calling (212) 248-7431 to set up a free and confidential consultation. We’ve helped numerous workers in New York City and the surrounding areas, and we’re ready to go to work for you.

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