Restaurant Owner Subjected Female Employees to Pervasive Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assaults; Fired Manager Who Opposed the Harassment, Federal Agency Says
BALTIMORE - SPOA, LLC, which runs the Italian restaurants Basta Pasta in Fallston and Lutherville-Timonium, Md., subjected female employees to flagrant sexual harassment and fired a manager who complained about the harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
The EEOC alleged that the restaurant owner repeatedly subjected female employees, some of whom were teenagers, to unwelcome and offensive sexual harassment, including touching them on their buttocks, lower backs and shoulders; rubbing his genitalia against the buttocks of female employees; leering at female employees and making comments about their bodies, including calling them "sexy" or "hot;" making sexually suggestive remarks and crude sexual innuendos; and asking for massages.
The EEOC further charged that the owner pressured female employees to have alcoholic drinks at the end of their shifts and acted offended if they did not stay and drink. The EEOC alleges that the owner gave one female employee, "Mary Smith," alcohol, causing her to pass out and later wake up vomiting, and that Smith believed the owner drugged her in an attempt to sexually assault her. The EEOC also charged that the owner took another female employee, "Jane Doe," to his house, purportedly to talk about a management opportunity, but instead Doe believes he drugged and sexually assaulted her. (Given the public interest in protecting the identities of sexual assault victims and attempted sexual assault victims, the EEOC is utilizing pseudonyms.)
The sexual harassment was so intolerable that these two employees felt compelled to quit their jobs, the EEOC says in the lawsuit. Jane Doe was 18 years old when she started working for the company and 21 years old when she was forced to quit her job due to the sexual harassment.
The EEOC also charges that a restaurant manager, Dimitra Kokkinakos, had complained to management about the owner's sexually offensive behavior but the company failed to take action to stop the harassment. After learning that Kokkinakos had been in touch with Jane Doe, the restaurant warned Kokkinakos to "keep her mouth shut" and fired her in retaliation for her opposition to the sexual harassment. The restaurant also threatened Kokkinakos when she participated in the EEOC investigation, including pressuring her to recant her testimony, according to the lawsuit.
Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment. Title VII also forbids employers from retaliating 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 its lawsuit, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Basta Pasta from engaging in sexual harassment or retaliation, as well as lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for Smith, Doe, Kokkinakos and other similarly-situated female employees, and other affirmative relief.
"No employee, male or female, should have to endure being subjected to offensive sexual comments and touching in order to earn a living, but the unlawful harassment is even more vile and intolerable when it includes sexual assaults by a company owner," said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Restaurants must protect their employees from harassment, particularly when the work force includes vulnerable workers like teenagers. Sexual harassment is even more egregious when a company owner is the offender. The EEOC will take vigorous action to vindicate the rights of employees subjected to such outrageous harassment."
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.