Head Chef Harassed and Fired Female Cooks, Federal Agency Charged
NEW YORK – A restaurant group that includes Liberty Warehouse, a popular Brooklyn, N.Y. wedding venue, agreed to pay $125,000 and provide extensive non-monetary relief to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. That restaurant group includes the Manhattan restaurants and event spaces called The Water Club, The River Café, and Pershing Square.
According to the EEOC, Liberty Warehouse’s head chef subjected a class of female kitchen staff to sexual harassment and sex discrimination that included unwanted touching, sexual comments, throwing objects at them, and belittling them based on their sex in front of coworkers. EEOC alleged the head chef made raises contingent on a female employee sleeping with him. When she refused, he withheld a bonus, stopped assigning her hours, and ultimately fired her. When she reported this behavior to Liberty Warehouse and asked management to stop the harassment and reinstate her, the company refused.
The EEOC alleged throughout this period, Liberty Warehouse lacked an anti-discrimination policy or training that might have prevented or corrected these unlawful acts.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, the creation of a hostile work environment, and retaliation.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EEOC v. Liberty Events, LLC d/b/a Liberty Warehouse., Civil Action No. 20-4631), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. This case was litigated by EEOC Trial Attorneys Liane T. Rice and Kirsten Peters, supervised by Supervisory Trial Attorney Sara Smolik.
The three-and-a-half-year consent decree entered on September 16, 2021 includes the creation of a $125,000 claims fund for backpay, emotional distress, and other damages suffered by the harmed employees. The decree also includes substantial non-monetary relief, including the creation of anti-discrimination policies; development of trainings for managers and employees; a requirement that policies and trainings be provided in English and Spanish; one-on-one training for the chef; removal of the chef’s sole authority over hiring, firing, and pay decisions; a monitoring period; and periodic reporting to the EEOC.
“The EEOC is committed to protecting vulnerable food service workers from sexual harassment,” said Trial Attorney Liane Rice. “That work depends on employees like the brave women here who were willing to speak out against abuse.”
“Restaurants and event spaces ignore improper behavior in their kitchens at their own risk,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein. “For such misconduct often involves unlawful discrimination, including not only sexual harassment but also demeaning treatment based on an employee’s protected characteristics.”
The EEOC’s New York District Director, Judy Keenan, said, “The best practice is to prevent unlawful discrimination before it occurs, through anti-discrimination policies, training, oversight, and commitment to an equitable workplace.”
The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in New York, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.