DENVER The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Monday charging a Colorado restaurant with sexual harassment and retaliation after firing an employee who complained about how she was treated.
EEOC officials described the restaurant’s conduct as “reprehensible,” and attorneys in the case said sexual harassment continues to be a national problem in the restaurant industry.
“We continue to see a significant number of sexual harassment complaints in the restaurant industry,” said Mary Joe O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix district office. “It is essential for employers to stop the kind of conduct alleged in this complaint.”
According to the lawsuit, Paul Martinez, the owner and manager of Alamos Verdes restaurant in Arvada, Colo., repeatedly groped a female employee who was 16 years old when she was hired.
The employee, who worked for the restaurant between 2003 and 2006, said Martinez grabbed her backside, crotch and breast, pulled her underwear, and stuck his finger in her mouth when she yawned. He also frequently told inappropriate jokes and made inappropriate comments directly to the employee.
In addition, Greg Martinez, Paul’s brother and another owner and manager of the family-owned restaurant, is also charged with harassment, allegedly calling female employees “stupid,” and saying “the only things women are good at are bitching and moaning.”
Both Martinez brothers are also alleged to have grabbed or belittled other employees, including another teenager, according to the EEOC.
When the plaintiff complained about the alleged harassment, she was subjected to adverse terms and conditions of employment and eventually fired, according to the EEOC's suit.
Phone calls to the restaurant on Monday were returned by Greg Martinez, who said he was unaware of the lawsuit.
Stuart Ishimaru, the EEOC's acting chairman, said: “The conduct alleged here is reprehensible. The harassment was compounded by the retaliation against a teenager who sought to complain about her illegal treatment. The EEOC treats this type of violation with the utmost urgency and will act vigorously to uphold the laws prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation.”
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages. The EEOC also seeks an injunction to prohibit further discrimination and corrective action by the employer.
O’Neill said the restaurant industry stands out as one that appears to have a continuing problem with sexual harassment in the workplace.
“It’s an industry where a lot of young people start their work lives and there needs to be better standards set by the adults about what’s okay and not okay,” she said.