Waitress taking somebody's order

The Spotted Pig Closes, But Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry Persists

By Douglas Lipsky

The infamous Spotted Pig restaurant closed its doors in late January, following the recent settlement of sexual harassment claims by owner Kenneth Friedman. Under terms of the settlement with the New York State Attorney General, Friedman agreed to step down from operating the gastropub and pay an aggregate of $240,000 to 11 former employees. 

The settlement also called for Friedman to pay 20 percent of the restaurant’s profits to the victims over the next decade. Whether they will be able to collect this portion of the settlement is questionable now that the restaurant has closed. One thing is certain, however: sexual harassment continues to be pervasive in the restaurant industry. 

In fact, a recent study found that 80 percent of female servers and 70 percent of male servers in restaurants have been victims of workplace harassment. If you have experienced sexual harassment while working in a restaurant, it takes an experienced employment law attorney to protect your rights. 

Common Reasons for Sexual Harassment in Restaurants

One reason that sexual harassment is more pervasive in the hospitality space than in other industries is that the majority of restaurant owners and managers are men. At the same time, over 70 percent of servers are women. This disparity may give rise to hostile work environments in which the conduct of managers and owners like Friedman is overlooked. 

While an offhand comment may constitute a hostile work environment, multiple comments, gestures or touching a server in a way that a reasonable person would consider offensive may be deemed sexual harassment. Servers in restaurants, both women and men, are not only subjected to harassment by owners and managers but patrons as well. 

When restaurant workers who have been subjected to harassment try to address their concerns to management, they are often told that “working in a restaurant is tough, so get used to it.” The fact that servers rely on tips for a good portion of their income also makes them more vulnerable to sexual harassment. Rather than complain, servers often tolerate harassment because they need to make a living. Similarly, managers and owners may be reluctant to confront abusive customers for fear of losing business. There is no excuse for sexual harassment in restaurants, however, or any other workplace.

Restaurant Workers in New York Are Protected Against Workplace Harassment

Under local, state, and federal law, sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex discrimination. If you have been subjected to harassment in a restaurant by a manager, coworker, owner or patron, you have a right to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Although restaurant workers have long tolerated harassment out of fear of losing their jobs, you should know that you cannot be retaliated against for filing a complaint. 

The Takeaway

Whether the Spotted Pig controversy will bring greater public awareness to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry remains to be seen. In the meantime, the best way for restaurant workers to assert their rights is to contact an adept sexual harassment lawyer.

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.