Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Recent news stories have focused on sexual harassment in the media, entertainment and finance industries, however, the problem is also pervasive in the restaurant industry. According to a recent study, 80 percent of female servers and 70 percent of male servers in restaurants have been subjected to sexual harassment. Moreover, 37 percent of sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the hospitality and restaurant industry.

If you have experienced sexual harassment while working in a restaurant, turn to Lipsky Lowe LLP. Our NYC employment law attorneys know that restaurant employees in the greater New York area are particularly susceptible to sexual harassment. When you consult us, we will be the strength in your corner, fighting to help you obtain just compensation.

Why is sexual harassment pervasive in the restaurant industry?

Restaurant employees experience sexual harassment at a higher rate than workers in other sectors for numerous reasons. First, management positions in the restaurant industry are typically held by men, while 71 percent of restaurant servers are women, according to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. This imbalance contributes to an environment in which sexual harassment by managers and coworkers is overlooked or tolerated. In addition, restaurant workers are often confined to close quarters, which lends itself to creating a hostile work environment.

Restaurant servers are also subjected to sexual harassment by customers, partially due to a “customer is always right” mentality. Employees often refrain from complaining about harassment by customers, thinking that it’s just part of the job. Because restaurant servers rely on tips, customers play a key role in how much servers earn. This can lead customers to sexually harass servers, while employees and managers are typically reluctant to confront customers. Regardless of whether a manager, coworker, or customer is the culprit, however, restaurant employees have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under local, state and federal laws, such as the New York City and New York State Human Rights Laws and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Generally, there are two forms of sexual harassment — “quid pro quo” (or this for that) and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo harassment in a restaurant setting occurs when a person in a position of authority (1) expects an employee to submit to sexual advances in exchange for an employment benefit or (2) an employee is fired for rejecting such an advance. Obviously, a restaurant manager is in a position of authority over a server, however, so too is a customer because servers rely on tips to make a living.

A hostile work environment, on the other hand, arises when the offensive conduct interferes with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job duties or creates an intimidating workplace. In a restaurant, a hostile work environment can arise regardless of whether you are a frontline employee or working behind the kitchen door. If you work as an assistant the kitchen and the chef is constantly making sexual comments that prevent you from cooking, for example, this may be construed as a hostile work environment. Similarly, this form of sexual harassment can occur if a customer makes sexual comments or gestures while you are serving. While a single offhand comment may not be sufficient to create a hostile work environment, numerous comments of a sexual nature, sexual jokes, gestures, or touching that a person in the same situation would find offensive may constitute sexual harassment.

In any event, to have a valid claim under Title VII or the New York State Human Rights Law, it is necessary to show that the offensive comments or gestures are severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of your employment. Under the New York City Human Rights Law, however, you only need to prove that you were treated less well than other employees for a discriminatory reason.

Why Call Lipsky Lowe?

In an era of celebrity chefs, numerous misconceptions exist about the restaurant industry. Far from the glamour and romance of fine dining, restaurant employees are often forced to tolerate unreasonable demands. Sexual harassment in a restaurant is more than unreasonable, however, it is illegal.

Nonetheless, filing a sexual harassment claim against a restaurant can be challenging. In some cases, restaurants are privately owned and don’t have a human resources department, while other establishments lack formal sexual harassment policies. Regardless of whether you work for a restaurant chain, a four-star restaurant, or a fast food franchise, there is no reason to tolerate sexual harassment.

Our legal team will take the time to explain all of your rights and help explore all of your options. Depending on the circumstances, we may pursue a claim on your behalf, or in the alternative, file a lawsuit on a class or collective basis. Above all, we will provide you with aggressive legal representation and fight for the compensation you deserve. Please contact our office today for a free evaluation of your case.

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