Waitresses Were Abused at Merrill, Wis., Restaurant; Some Were Fired for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
MADISON, Wis. - A Merrill, Wis., restaurant will pay $41,000 and furnish other relief under a consent decree entered by the federal court in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit (EEOC and Sherry L. Brown v. Merrill Pine Ridge LLC, et al., No. 3:11-cv-589), one of the cooks at New Pine Ridge restaurant, Shahi N. Selmani, created a sexually hostile work environment when he repeatedly made crude remarks to waitresses and grabbed their breasts. The EEOC alleged that, despite the women's complaints, restaurant owner Qemal Alimi did not stop Selmani's harassment and instead fired some of the waitresses in retaliation for their complaints.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in August 2011 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Selmani did not stop working for the restaurant until months after criminal charges were filed against him. Eventually he pled no contest on Dec. 9, 2010 in Lincoln County Circuit Court (Case Nos. 2009CM25 and 2009CM101) to having committed Class A misdemeanor battery against three waitresses. Charges of fourth-degree sexual assault, bail jumping and disorderly conduct were dismissed but "read into" the record of his conviction.
The consent decree entered by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley on Jan. 14 prohibits future discrimination and provides that Merrill Pine Ridge LLC and Kim's Wisconsin LLC, jointly doing business as New Pine Ridge Restaurant, will pay Sherry L. Brown, one of the harassment victims, $41,000 and train the restaurant's owner, managers and employees regarding an employer's obligations and the rights of employees under Title VII.
On July 7, 2011, in a similar case in Forest County (Circuit Court Case No. 2011CM30), Selmani pled no contest to two more counts of Class A misdemeanor battery and, among other things, was ordered to "participate [in] and complete a sex offender treatment program . . . ."
"The Supreme Court has held that when an employer learns of sexual harassment, it must take immediate and effective action to stop it," said John C. Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, which is responsible for EEOC litigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. "Employers who don't protect their workers should know that the federal government will enforce our national policy against sexual abuse in the workplace."
Hendrickson added that retaliation complaints have been the fastest-increasing type of complaint filed with the EEOC over the past 10 years.
"Sometimes we need to reinforce, through litigation, the message that workers should not be fired for reporting job discrimination," he said.
The EEOC's litigation efforts were led by Senior Trial Attorney Dennis R. McBride of its Milwaukee Area Office and Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp of its Chicago District Office.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.