A news story by the Palm Beach News blends my interest in food and employment law. The paper reports the Hurricane Grill and Wings in Royal Palm beach is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws alleges in a lawsuit filed yesterday that the restaurant allowed a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy to sexually harass waitresses.
Sexual harassment cases fall into two categories – quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The EEOC claims the restaurant subjected its employees to a hostile work environment because it was aware of the deputy’s harassment and failed to act.
According to the complaint, starting in April of 2009, deputy Commodore Bradford continually made comments to female waitresses about their breasts when he was a frequent customer at the restaurant. He asked at least one waitress, identified in the lawsuit as Stacy Sorenson, “when are we gonna bang.” The suit also claims the deputy would call waitresses over to his table and show them sexually explicit photos of himself and his wife. Bradford would then try to get them to have threesomes with him and his wife and follow them around the restaurant with his camera phone trying to take pictures of their breasts, according to allegations in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, Sorenson and other waitresses told managers and the owner, Donald Michael Galbraith, several times about Bradford’s actions, but nothing was ever done to stop the harassment. The EEOC further claims that after the restaurant’s managers learned that Sorenson was planning legal action, she was fired in retaliation in March 2010.
Restaurant owners may be surprised to learn managers and owners are responsible for patrons behavior. Robert Weisberg, a regional attorney for the EEOC, told the Palm Beach News creating a work environment free of sexual harassment includes “preventing harassment of employees by customers.” It doesn’t matter who the person is, customer or independent contractor, as long as they are causing an intimidating, distasteful, insulting, or hostile work environment through discriminatory workplace harassment. Harassment based on a protected class, such as sex, which is relentless and persistent must be stopped by management once they are made aware of the problem.
Restaurants (all employers) must be mindful of the balance between an out-of-hand patron and one that becomes a continual nuisance to the point of creating a hostile work environment.
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