EEOC Settles Sexual Harassment Case Against Baltimore Restaurant for $200,000

On May 29, 2014 the Federal District Court for Maryland Filed a Consent Decree approving a settlement in the case EEOC and Jane Doe v. SPOA, LLC, d/b/a Basta Pasta. According to allegations in the complaint, the Plaintiffs were subjected to egregious sexual harassment, including continuous sexual comments, innuendos, and unwanted touching by the restaurant’s owner. Restaurant owner Michael Sakellis allegedly often provided alcohol to female employees at the conclusion of their shifts and pressured them to drink it. On two occasions he allegedly invited two different female employees to his home “to discuss a ‘management opportunity,'” sneaked a drug into their drinks that made them feel “dizzy and paralyzed,” and in one case actually sexually assaulted the Plaintiff. One Plaintiff was also repeatedly threatened following her participation with the EEOC investigation, pressured to recant her testimony and threatened with a defamation lawsuit. Finally, Sakellis constructively discharged two Plaintiffs, effectively forcing them to quit their jobs.

Under the Settlement Agreement, the Defense agreed to pay a total of $200,000 to resolve the case, including $100,000 to Jane Doe, the first Plaintiff, $70,000 to a second Plaintiff, and $30,000 in compensatory damages to be distributed among Class members. In addition, SPOA LLC must provide the EEOC with a list of last known phone numbers and addresses for all female employees who worked at Basta Pasta from 2009 to present, implement new sexual harassment and non-retaliation policies, notify employees of those policies, initiate corresponding training for managers, and hire a neutral third party to monitor the company’s practices during the process.

“It is always shocking when a company owner engages in blatant and outrageous sexual harassment,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. “The resolution of this lawsuit should remind all employers, and especially those who employ vulnerable workers such as teen workers, that the EEOC stands ready to vindicate workers’ rights and to ensure that no one has to endure appalling mistreatment in order to earn a living.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “This is an important resolution because in addition to compensating the victims for their wage loss and emotional harm, the comprehensive settlement, including the hiring of an independent monitor who will investigate sexual harassment or retaliation complaints, is designed to protect employees from future discrimination.”

In its press release regarding this case, the EEOC noted that “Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. Because the Plaintiffs in the present case were young–between 18 and 21 years of age–the EEOC also found it appropriate to add the following message: “The EEOC has updated its Youth@Work website (at http://www.eeoc.gov/youth/), which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination. The website also contains curriculum guides for students and teachers and videos to help young workers learn about their rights and responsibilities in the workforce.”

If you are an employee and you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment or retaliation, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.