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Egregious Sexual Harassment and Retaliation at a Maryland Restaurant


In a shockingly blatant example of sexual harassment in the workplace, the EEOC has settled a lawsuit against Basta Pasta, a restaurant in Maryland.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff (who was kept anonymous) along with other female co-workers, were subject to a sexually hostile work environment and were harassed by the owner, Michael Sakellis. According to the complaint,

"Incidents of harassment by Sakellis to female employees include, but are not limited to:

a. Frequent sexual touching, including patting a female employee on the rear end, caressing females' lower backs, squeezing a female's shoulders, pulling a female employee's bra strap, placing a female employee in a headlock, and rubbing his genitalia into a female's rear at least twice a week; touching female' employees on their lower .backs near their rear ends, and cornering the female employees at their work station;

b. Frequent sexual comments, such as telling female employees he wanted to take them home; stating his wife would be angry if she saw him touching a female employee; remarking "look at that ass" and "Oh, the things I want to do to you;" telling female employees they looked sexy or hot; telling female employees they could just wear tank tops instead of work shirts; stating he should hire a female employee to give massages at his house; remarking on females' breasts and rear ends; asking what a female employee does with her boyfriend;

c. Gesturing to his shoulders, indicating he wanted a shoulder massage, or asking for a shoulder or hand massage;

d. Staring at female employees' body parts, such as their rear ends and giving sexual looks;

e. Pushing alcoholic drinks on female employees at the conclusion of their shifts and acting offended if they did not stay and drink, and flirting and making sexually suggestive remarks;

f. Telling a female employee, Mary Smith, that his wife was away and he would take her to his home and "show her a few things," providing her alcohol, after which she passed out and later woke up vomiting, causing her to believe that he drugged her in an attempt to rape her;

g. Constructively discharging Mary Smith;

h. Providing alcohol to Jane Doe following her shift, approximately a week after the events described in paragraph f and around July 26, 2009, taking her to his home ostensibly to discuss a "management opportunity," insisting she drink more alcohol at his home during which time she believes she was slipped a date rape drug because she became dizzy and paralyzed, during which time he sexually assaulted her;

I. Following Doe's sexual assault, constructively discharging her.

The EEOC also charged that the restaurant retaliated against a manager who had complained to upper management about the owner's sexually offensive behavior with no response. The restaurant warned the manager to "keep her mouth shut" and then fired her in retaliation for whistleblowing. The restaurant also threatened the manager when she participated in the EEOC investigation, including pressuring her to recant her testimony.

This is a particularly egregious case, especially considering that the anonymous plaintiff was only 18 years old when this happened to her. Not only was it a textbook example of a hostile work environment based on sex, but also involved the type of retaliation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to prevent. The settlement was for $200,000, which is a fairly small number given the extent of the illegal behavior. A private lawsuit brought by an employment lawyer probably would have yielded more.

If you have been subject to a type of hostile work environment as described in this lawsuit, even if does not rise to the levels of harassment detailed here, be sure to contact an employment lawyer to enforce your rights.
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