It's not just high-profile restaurants where harassment can flourish. It's wonderful to see nearly powerless kitchen staff get the backing they need to speak out about egregious behavior.
— Jason Clampet
Female kitchen workers at the McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant in downtown Boston were subjected to constant groping and lewd comments from male supervisors and co-workers, and their complaints to the company were routinely ignored, five women said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit highlights the abuse and harassment women in low-wage hospitality positions routinely face, even as allegations of sexual misconduct roil white-collar industries like film, media and politics, said Sophia Hall, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represents the women.
“These are positions that society often overlooks,” she said. “These women are particularly vulnerable, with limited English and no access to an effective reporting procedure. They suffered daily and in humiliating ways.”
Fabiana Santos, who worked as a prep cook at the restaurant, detailed the lewd comments and unwanted touching she endured from a male dishwasher at a news conference Tuesday.
“The disgusting things that happened to me made me feel dirty,” she said in Portuguese, speaking through a translator. “And when I got home, I didn’t even want my kids to touch me.”
Marta Romero said a sous chef frequently groped and harassed her when she worked there as a dishwasher. She said she felt powerless to do anything about it because the chef was her supervisor.
“I want other women to know that whatever type of work they do or who they are, they’re not powerless,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter. “They are powerful and have legal rights.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they speak publicly, which all five women have done.
A spokeswoman for Landry’s Inc., the Houston-based restaurant, casino and hotel operator that owns McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants, Inc., said in a statement that McCormick strives to maintain a “harassment free environment.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have “latched on to the current frenzy concerning sexual harassment and filed a lawsuit citing inflammatory allegations that conflicted with statements of their own clients and that at least one independent eyewitness identified during our investigation said was untrue,” said Julia Liebelt, vice president of Human Resources.
The women, most of whom have since left the restaurant chain, say they reported the lewd behavior to supervisors but were routinely ignored.
They eventually brought their complaints to the company’s human resources department, which took some disciplinary actions against male employees but denied the conduct amounted to sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.
The women then took their case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2015 ruled there was reasonable cause to believe the company discriminated against the women on the basis of their gender, according to the lawsuit.
Rachel Smit, another attorney for the women, said federal agency finding allows the women to proceed with their suit, which was filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston and seeks unspecified damages.