Servers in Restaurants in New York City and Nationwide Face Rampant Sexual Harassment

Servers in restaurants are in a particular position of vulnerability to unlawful employment practices like sexual harassment. New York City, with its abundance of restaurants, offers countless examples, but it is a nationwide problem. Job positions for servers can be very competitive, and supervisors have considerable discretion regarding shift assignments. Furthermore, most servers are dependent on tips for their income. This places many servers in a position in which they could face harassment not only from supervisors and managers, but also from customers. A server may hesitate to speak out about harassment by a customer for fear of losing tips, and they may fear speaking out against their employer for fear of losing shift assignments or their job. A lawsuit filed last year by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers an example of the sort of environment that servers face throughout the country. EEOC v. New Apple, Inc., No. 4:17-cv-01150, 2nd am. complaint (D.S.C., Dec. 14, 2017).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of multiple factors, including sex. Through amendments to the statute and Supreme Court decisions, the definition of sex discrimination has expanded since 1964 to include pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. The courts have identified two broad categories of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or manager demands sexual activity in some form as a condition of employment, such as when a restaurant manager demands sexual favors from a server in exchange for the most lucrative shift assignments. A hostile work environment occurs when a general environment of unwelcome and inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature interferes with the server’s ability to do their job.

The EEOC is charged with investigating alleged Title VII violations. Claims of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination under Title VII usually begin with a complaint filed with the EEOC. If, once the EEOC completes its investigation, it finds a reasonable basis to conclude that unlawful employment practices occurred, it may try to resolve the matter with the employer without litigation. It files suit directly against employers in some cases, or else it provides the complainant with a “right to sue” letter that authorizes them to file suit themselves in federal court.

The lawsuit mentioned above was filed directly by the EEOC. The complainants are a pair of sisters who worked as servers at a franchisee of a nationwide restaurant chain. One sister, “TF,” began working at the restaurant location in September 2013. The other, “CF,” began in June 2014. TF alleges various acts by an assistant manager over a period of about 10 months, beginning in January 2014, including inappropriate sexual comments, nonconsensual contact, and direct propositions for sexual activity. She claims that she complained to management but that they failed to act. CF alleges similar acts by the same assistant manager and a similar lack of remedial action by the defendant.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, the defendant took no action against the assistant manager, despite multiple complaints from TF and CF, until October 2014. At that time, CF’s husband reportedly learned of the alleged harassment, and TF and CF informed the manager that he intended to confront the assistant manager in person. The defendant only then terminated the assistant manager.

Phillips & Associates’ team of skilled and experienced sexual harassment attorneys advocates for New York City employees and job seekers, helping them assert claims for unlawful workplace practices like sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

New York City Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Harassment by Celebrity Chef, Highlights Problems in the Restaurant Business, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 7, 2017

Server Alleges Sexual Harassment in New York Federal Lawsuit Against Restaurant, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 31, 2017

New Report Exposes Widespread Nature of Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 17, 2015

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