The restaurant industry presents some of the most egregious examples of workplace sexual harassment in the country. New York City sexual harassment attorneys handle claims arising in nearly every part of the economy, so the problem is not at all limited to that industry. Restaurants seem to present many of the circumstances in which harassment often thrives. Servers may depend on supervisors to assign them good shifts, and then they depend on customers for tip income. Some restaurants foster environments where, even if servers and other employees are not overtly sexualized, sexual banter is tolerated or even encouraged. A lawsuit filed this summer in a New York City state court alleges many of the most egregious situations found in restaurant sexual harassment cases. The plaintiff’s complaint describes ongoing harassment by both employees and customers of the restaurant.
Under laws like the New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is considered a type of sex discrimination. The law recognizes two broad categories of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment. A hostile work environment claim arises when unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace is so pervasive or severe that it interferes with someone’s ability to perform their job duties. A single incident can support a hostile work environment claim if it is severe enough, although this is a difficult burden of proof to meet. Most claims alleging a hostile work environment involve ongoing verbal or physical harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee must give in to some sort of sexual demand as part of their job or in order to obtain a job. In the film and television business, the term “casting couch” refers to the practice of producers or directors giving a role to whoever is most agreeable to such demands. In the restaurant business, it often occurs when a manager or supervisor expects sexual favors in exchange for the best shift assignments or other perks.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned earlier began working for the defendant restaurant in the fall of 2018. She was a college student in her late teens at the time. She alleges that the sexual harassment began almost immediately, with male supervisors, co-workers, and customers engaging in harassing behavior. She claims, for example, that staff and customers groped her multiple times during almost every shift she worked.
Complaints to management did not result in any meaningful action to address the problem, she claims. A regular customer allegedly kissed her unexpectedly and without her consent, and not only did management not take action, but she also claims that she was told to let him do it again if he wanted. In an example of alleged quid pro quo sexual harassment, she claims that managers and supervisors withheld tips that she had earned “unless and until she performed certain sexualized favors for them.”
The plaintiff left the restaurant in 2019, after less than a year on the job. She filed her lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court in June 2020. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, as well as a court order requiring the restaurant to provide better employee training on sexual harassment prevention and to revise its procedures for handling employee complaints.
The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City workers, helping them assert claims for sexual harassment and other unlawful acts. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.