California restaurant chain faces lawsuit over sexual harassment and retaliation claims

Employer 'failed to take any corrective action'

California restaurant chain faces lawsuit over sexual harassment and retaliation claims

The California-based Italian restaurant chain II Fornaio faces a lawsuit after allegedly tolerating sexual harassment of male employees against female workers and retaliating against those who complained about the issue, SiliconValley.com reported.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the complaint but did not provide further details as to the specific restaurant involved or the number of female employees who were allegedly harassed, the report said.

Background of the case

According to SiliconValley.com, the lawsuit originated from the allegations of discrimination that a female employee filed 30 days earlier.

The said female employee, who started working in II Fornaio as a hostess in 2017, continued her job until May 2019, when she was forced to resign due to “ongoing sexual harassment by a manager and co-workers,” the EEOC lawsuit stated, according to the news outlet.

Read more: It’s time to intensify your sexual harassment prevention training

The EEOC further noted that other female employees also complained of similar experiences, such as being groped around the buttocks and genitals and being exposed to pornography on cellphone screens.

Employer’s alleged failure to act

When employees complained to the management about their unpleasant experiences in the workplace, the supervisors allegedly struck back by reducing the number of shifts the women were supposed to work, assigning employees to do more complex tasks, or even denying workers their time off and issuing them threats, the EEOC said.

The lawsuit further stated that female workers began to air their grievances to the restaurant’s management as early as 2016 to no avail.

In response to the alleged sexual harassment, SiliconValley.com said the EEOC “issued II Fornaio a letter of determination finding reasonable cause” to believe the company had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” on Jan. 11, 2022.

Yet, despite the chance given to correct the discriminatory practices, the restaurant chain failed to comply in accordance with the EEOC’s satisfaction, the lawsuit stated.

Moreover, as early as 2016, there were already harassment allegations in II Fornaio, including repeated and offensive sex-based remarks and unwanted touching, according to the EEOC complaint.

However, EEOC alleged that the restaurant’s management failed to investigate the sexual harassment claims and did not take any corrective measures but only discouraged employees from filing more complaints, SiliconValley.com reported.

Anna Park, a regional attorney with the Los Angeles district of the EEOC, said that the kind of conduct that occurred at II Fornaio is very alarming as this could quickly spread if neglected, the news outlet said.

“Harassment in the restaurant industry remains a persistent problem which requires employer vigilance to ensure proper mechanisms are working to address harassment before it permeates the workplace,” Park said in a statement.

II Fornaio representatives did not respond to any comments regarding the case, according to SiliconValley.com.

The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 24 at the US District Court for the Central District of California, seeks “a jury trial on issues contained in the complaint and an injunction barring the company and management from further engaging in inappropriate behavior,” the news outlet said.

“It additionally seeks punitive damages and employee compensation for past and future monetary losses related to violations of Title VII in amounts to be determined at trial,” it added.

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