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NYS Attorney General Sanctions Lower Manhattan Bar for Sexual Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

New York State Attorney General Letitia James recently announced that a Lower Manhattan bar has been ordered to pay $500,000 to 16 current and former employees as part of a settlement following a sexual harassment investigation. The settlement highlights the persistent problem of sexual harassment in the restaurant and hospitality industry.  

The Backdrop

The attorney general’s investigation found that Nolita bar Sweet & Vicious and its owner engaged in illegal discrimination, harassment, and wage theft in violation of city and state human rights laws. According to the settlement agreement, bar employees were routinely subjected to comments about their race, sexuality, and managers by the owner and managers. 

In particular, the state’s investigation found:

  • Sweet & Vicious predominately hired male managers
  • The female lead bartender did managerial work regularly for a lower hourly rate than male managers
  • Female bartenders were not allowed to have their phones or drink on the job, while male managers were permitted to do so
  • The owner insisted on hiring bartenders who were “tall, blonde, beautiful, and sexy,” and those who did not fit this description were not hired, fired, or given fewer shifts
  • The owner routinely called female employees “cows” and scrutinized their weight
  • Male managers harassed multiple female employees, made unwanted sexual advances, and commented bout their appearances, bodies, and clothes
  • Customers harassed several female bartenders, threatened to stab, rape, and beat them, and also threw glasses at them
  • Managers failed to respond to bartenders’ repeated complaints about violent customers
  • The owner and managers regularly used racial and gay slurs
  • There were instances of wage-and-hour violations, including tip theft and failing to pay overtime to certain employees who worked more than 40 hours a week
  • The bar did not provide wage notices and wage statements to employees, as required under New York labor law

In addition to paying $500,000 to the affected employees, Sweet & Vicious must: 

  • Revise its anti-discrimination and harassment training materials
  • Train all employees on these materials
  • Post notices of anti-discrimination and harassment rights and responsibilities

The attorney general’s office will also monitor the bar for three years. The settlement follows a 16-month investigation that involved interviews with more than a dozen of the bar’s current and former employees. 

Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry Persists

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in the restaurant and hospitality industry, despite federal, state, and local laws prohibiting such misconduct. If you have been subjected to harassment in a restaurant or bar by an owner, manager, coworker, or patron, you have a right to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Taking legal action against an employer is never easy, but it’s the best way to fight back, obtain just compensation, and restore your dignity. Contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer today to get started.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.