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NYC Sex Harassment of Male Waiters Nets $600K Settlement

Sparks Steak House was home to an infamous mafia murder 30 years ago. But it appears the illegal activity didn’t stop there.Our New York City employment lawyers understand that the restaurant owner was ordered to pay $600,000 for failing to stop sexual harassment perpetuated on some 22 male servers at the restaurant. The abuse reportedly went on for almost eight years.

The case, EEOC v. Michael Cetta, Inc., d/b/a Sparks Steakhouse, Inc.,was heard in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

The harassment included the manager making lewd comments to the men, groping their buttocks and making numerous attempts to touch their genitals.

But when some of the servers tried to complain, they were swiftly – and sometimes harshly – shut down by management. In some cases, they were assigned to tougher work. In other cases, those who complained were suspended.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits both sexual harassment and retaliation for complaint of such action.

Sexual harassment covers a gamut of actions, including (but not limited to):

  • requests for sexual favors;
  • unwanted sexual advances;
  • physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature and rejection or submission by one party affects that person’s employment;
  • sexually-charged comments, actions and material that creates an offensive or hostile work environment.

It’s noteworthy in this case that the victims were men. Stereotypically, we think of women as being the primary targets of sexual harassment. And in most instances, that is the case. But male employees tend to vastly under-report such incidents. They need to understand that they also have rights, and should seek assistance if they are being victimized.

Some are becoming braver.

Even though the overall number of sexual harassment filings involving the EEOC has fallen in the last handful of years, the percentage filed by men has climbed to 16 percent. The EEOC says same-sex harassment claims appear to be increasing.

The $600,000 settlement is about more than just the money, however. In addition to the payout, the restaurant must set up a hotline to allow employees to call regarding incidents of discrimination or harassment. Additionally, the restaurant will need to amend its policy that prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation to include all employees – not just females. It will also be required to host anti-discrimination training for all workers. It will have to post a public notice regarding the settlement, and any future reports or complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation will have to be reported by the restaurant directly to the EEOC.

The restaurant is known these days for its great steak and long wine list. However, back in the mid-1980s, it was the scene of the murder of Paul Castellano and his bodyguard. They were killed by gunshot wounds outside the eatery on orders from John Gotti, who went on to become the head of the infamous Gambino crime family as a result.

We hope this ruling will be the end of the restaurant running afoul of the law.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Sparks Steak House to Pay $600,000 to Settle EEOC Class Male-On-Male Sexual Harassment Suit, Nov. 15, 2012, Press Release, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
More Blog Entries:
Study: New York City Employment Lawsuits Can Seem Daunting, June 2, 2012, New York City Employment Lawyer Blog