NEW YORK Four women who formerly worked at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone restaurant, a Times Square restaurant operated by The Riese Organization under a licensing deal with chef David Burke, have filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the owners of the eatery and accused a former general manager of rape and sexual battery.
Representatives of Burke and Riese, a local operator of multiple restaurant concepts, said the allegations were false and without merit. Burke was not named as a defendant in the suit, though court documents indicate the well-known chef holds a small equity stake in the restaurant.
The suit seeks $600 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Riese, HT Restaurant NYC, National Restaurants Management Inc. and DR One Corp., according to court documents. The action was filed in U.S. District Court here on behalf of Jennifer Brooks, Giulietta Consalvo, Stephanie Cheng and Michelle Hasiuk.
The women allege in the lawsuit that they “were subjected to the flagrantly lewd, vulgar and repulsive sexual advances of their supervisors and managers.” The suit further accuses former general manager Anthony Rakis of raping Consalvo, a former manager at the restaurant, after a pre-opening party on Sept. 30, 2006, and forcing Cheng to perform oral sex on him in March 2007.
Rakis could not be reached for comment. Perry Paylor, who identified himself as Rakis’ attorney, told The Daily News that his client denies all of the allegations.
“These allegations are false and the Riese Organization will vigorously defend itself against this meritless lawsuit,” said Larry K. Hutcher, an attorney for the company. “Riese took appropriate action at the time of the original employee complaint. After conducting an internal investigation, and in accordance with its policies, Riese terminated the manager in question. No charges were brought against him or any other employee or former employee … as a result of a subsequent police investigation instigated by the plaintiff in this lawsuit.”
Hutcher added: “The Riese Organization is committed to providing a work environment free from discrimination, harassment or intimidation and has a zero tolerance policy regarding abuse or mistreatment of our employees.”
Plaintiff Consalvo also alleged that Burke, who served as a culinary consultant in the restaurant, had “groped” her “around the waist and buttocks, and suggested they go out sometime.”
Aspokeswoman for Burke’s company, DB Global, said: “The allegations targeting chef Burke, a consulting chef for Hawaiian Tropic Zone, are without merit. Most significantly, chef Burke is not a party defendant to the suit. His name appears gratuitously for reasons known only to plaintiffs’ attorneys. Chef Burke focused his limited time at the restaurant on creating menus and ensuring the food preparation was top quality.”