Olive Garden Waitress Says Manager Groped, Harassed Workers

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By Patrick Dorrian

A former general manager at an Olive Garden in Bay Shore, N.Y., hired female applicants based on their perceived attractiveness, traded raises and promotions for sex, and harassed women workers, a waitress at the restaurant claims ( Baker v. Olive Garden , E.D.N.Y., No. 2:17-cv-00392, complaint filed 1/25/17 ).

Olive Garden and parent Darden Restaurants Inc. also failed to take action against James Kaiser after an initial complaint about his behavior and instead let him take leave for anxiety, Amanda Baker alleges in a lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in federal court. When Kaiser returned from leave, he took up where he left off, including regularly being drunk at work, Baker asserts.

Baker’s initial complaint to Olive Garden followed an incident in which Kaiser groped the breasts of the 26-year-old single mother of two and said “this reminded him of why he hired her in the first place.” Kaiser wasn’t fired until after he groped another waitress following his return from leave, prompting Kaiser’s boss—who knew about the harassment all along—to personally apologize to Baker, the lawsuit alleges.

The prevention of sexual and other workplace harassment is an enforcement priority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On Jan. 10, the agency released for public comment a draft of revised enforcement guidance on the issue. EEOC enforcement guidance serves as a reference for agency staff and employers, employees and others covered by federal anti-discrimination laws.

“We have not seen the complaint and are unable to comment,” Darden’s Senior Director of Communications Rich Jeffers told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 27 e-mail.

Sexual Harassment ‘Endemic to Restaurant Industry.’

The draft revised enforcement guidance followed a June 2016 report by a 16-member EEOC select task force on the study of workplace harassment. It urged employers to reboot their harassment prevention efforts and identified promising practices for doing so.

The report found that workplaces that rely on customer service or client satisfaction, those marked by limited communication between organizational levels, and those that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption by employees are most at risk for creating an atmosphere in which sexual harassment can flourish. Restaurants are exposed to all three risk factors, the EEOC found.

The task force report cites a separate 2014 report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which found sexual harassment to be “endemic to the restaurant industry.” ROCU said its survey of the industry revealed that 66.6 percent of female workers experienced some form of sexual harassment from management and that nearly 80 percent of women were subjected to sexual harassment by co-workers.

Waitress Sues Under Federal and State Law

Baker’s lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, also names Kaiser and Kaiser’s supervisor, Fred Naclerio, as defendants. She asserts claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the New York State Human Rights Law against all four defendants.

Baker was hired by the Olive Garden and Darden in October 2014, and Kaiser subjected her and other women to constant sexual harassment from then until he was fired in October 2016, according to the complaint. The only break in the relentless harassment, Baker says, was when Kaiser was out on leave for a few months in late 2015 and early 2016 after she told Naclerio that Kaiser had groped her breasts. Baker discussed the incident with a female manager, who responded that Kaiser “was drunk again,” according to the complaint.

Baker says she didn’t realize that Kaiser had not been fired or suspended until he suddenly returned from leave and returned to his role as general manager. From that point until his discharge, Kaiser required her to take cigarette breaks with him in “a secluded dumpster area” outside of the restaurant almost every shift. He would then subject her to sex talk, including comments about other female workers’ bodies and what they were or might be like in bed, Baker alleges.

Kaiser also told her and other female servers that they would receive larger raises and promotions if they had sex with him, Baker says. He made good on that offer with women who obliged, awarding them raises, promotions and overtime work, she asserts.

Appell & Parrinelli represents Baker. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Darden, Olive Garden, Kaiser or Naclerio.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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