Restaurant Owner Subjected Female Employees, Including at Least One Teen, to Severe Abuse and Fired a Manager Who Opposed the Misconduct, Federal Agency Charged
BALTIMORE - SPOA, LLC and Marathos, LLC, which run the Italian restaurants Basta Pasta in Fallston and Lutherville-Timonium, Md., will pay $200,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC charged that Basta Pasta's owner repeatedly subjected female employees, including at least one in her teens, to rampant sexual harassment, including rubbing his genitalia against the buttocks of some of them, engaging in other unwelcome touching, and frequently making sexually suggestive remarks and crude sexual innuendos. The owner gave alcohol to one female employee, identified by the pseudonym "Mary Smith" in the lawsuit, causing her to pass out and later wake up vomiting. Smith believed the owner drugged her in an attempt to sexually assault her, according to the lawsuit. The EEOC further charged that the owner invited another female employee, identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe, to his house, ostensibly to talk about a management opportunity, but Doe believed the owner instead drugged and sexually assaulted her.
The sexual harassment was so intolerable that these two employees were forced to quit their jobs, the EEOC said. Jane Doe was 18 years old when she started working for the company and 21 when she was forced to quit her job due to the harassment.
The EEOC also charged that the restaurant retaliated against a manager who had complained to upper management about the owner's sexually offensive behavior to no avail. The restaurant warned the manager to "keep her mouth shut" and then fired her in retaliation for her opposition to the abuse, the EEOC said. The restaurant also threatened the manager when she participated in the EEOC investigation, including pressuring her to recant her testimony, according to the lawsuit.
All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation against employees who oppose sexual harassment or discrimination. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. SPOA, LLC, d/b/a Basta Pasta, Civil Action No.1:13-cv-01615) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $200,000 in monetary relief, the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit provides significant equitable relief, including enjoining the restaurant from creating or maintaining a hostile work environment based on sex or engaging in unlawful retaliation in the future. Basta Pasta will hire an independent monitor who will promptly investigate any sexual harassment or retaliation complaints. The restaurant will implement and disseminate to all employees a policy prohibiting sexual harassment or retaliation and will provide training to all managers, supervisors and employees on Title VII's prohibitions against sexual harassment and retaliation and on the requirements of the consent decree. Basta Pasta will also post a remedial notice. Finally, the decree establishes a claims process for victims to come forward.
"It is always shocking when a company owner engages in blatant and outrageous sexual harassment," said Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "The resolution of this lawsuit should remind all employers, and especially those who employ vulnerable workers such as teen workers, that the EEOC stands ready to vindicate workers' rights and to ensure that no one has to endure appalling mistreatment in order to earn a living."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, "This is an important resolution because in addition to compensating the victims for their wage loss and emotional harm, the comprehensive settlement, including the hiring of an independent monitor who will investigate sexual harassment or retaliation complaints, is designed to protect employees from future discrimination."
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan. The EEOC recently updated its Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/), which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. The website also contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.