An Eatzi’s Market & Bakery assistant manager is suing owner Phil Romano, founder of Romano's Macaroni Grill and Fuddruckers, alleging he touched her inappropriately at the restaurant.
Romano is a well known restaurateur in the Dallas community and is also an investor in the Dallas’ Trinity Groves restaurant incubator project.
In the lawsuit filed June 27 in Dallas County Court, Ichel Maria Cook seeks at least $1 million in damages and penalties.
Michael McCabe, a lawyer representing Romano with the Dallas firm of Munck Wilson Mandala, said in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News: “We cannot discuss the details of this ongoing case, but we will vehemently defend our client against these accusations and demonstrate that the case should be dismissed.”
Cook alleges that she was attending a manager meeting April 7 at the original Eatzi’s location in Dallas when Romano entered and approached the front counter.
“While walking behind Ichel Cook,” the lawsuit recounted, “Phil Romano inappropriately grabbed Ichel’s buttocks with a grin on his face.”
A security video of the incident was shown by local media.
Cook said she turned to face Romano. “Upon recognizing the man that had violated her,” the lawsuit says, “Ichel became mortified and turned away to avoid escalating the situation in public.”
Cook’s lawsuit said Romano later confronted her to discuss the incident. “The only justification Phil Romano offered was, ‘I thought you were just one of the guys,’” the suit said.
The court denied Cook’s request for a temporary restraining order. Cook claimed Eatzi’s CEO Adam Romo and the company’s human resources director forced her to travel to the corporate office and “sign an affidavit stated that she never witnessed Phil Romano assault any other patrons or staff.”
Luis Bartolomei, whose Dallas law firm is representing Cook, said his client has returned to work at the Eatzi’s location after taking a few weeks off.
Eatzi’s has four locations. A fifth is scheduled to open in 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Correction: July 6, 2016 Due to an editing error, an earlier headline said that an employee filed a sexual assault lawsuit against Phil Romano. It was an assault lawsuit.