Restaurant owner implicated in sexual harassment case

He said she said. Investigators say that sexual harassment cases can sometimes be reduced to those four simple words, largely because sexual assault can take place in a private area without witnesses. A former hostess at a restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida, is alleging that her supervisor sexually accosted her after a shift.

The woman, who was 18 at the time of the assault, claims that the man groped her breast and attempted to force himself on her as he accompanied her to a parking garage. Authorities report that a criminal case is unlikely to gain traction because there were no witnesses to the crime, so the woman’s only recourse is to file a lawsuit. Attorneys report that the woman is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

The woman had only worked at the restaurant for two weeks in early 2012 when the alleged incident occurred. Her lawsuit states that her boss sexually abused, assaulted and harassed her.

Police have not filed any charges in the case because the case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the woman’s attorney. Authorities admit that the woman submitted allegations against the man shortly after the incident occurred, but they could not indict the man on such tenuous charges.

Although it is unfortunate that the criminal system has failed this woman, the civil courts can provide her with financial redress for the wrongs she has suffered. The woman is suing for sexual harassment, but she could also be seeking additional compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of income, because she was forced out of her job.

Source: 6 South Florida, “La Dorada restaurant owner accused of sexual assault in former hostess’ lawsuit,” Diana Gonzalez, Feb. 5, 2013

Waffle House CEO accused of harassing assistant

A former Waffle House executive is in legal trouble after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced from his former assistant. The man, who is currently the firm’s CEO, is accused of forcing his female assistant to perform sexual services in order to keep her job. The woman says she was coerced into performing the degrading acts during her nine-year term with the man.

The woman reportedly submitted to an interview by the Atlanta police in late September, revealing lurid details about the current executive. Officers say the woman’s claims have not been entirely verified, but the investigation in the matter is ongoing.

Allegations from the criminal report state that the woman was harassed as early as 2003, when she started her job as a personal assistant working out of the man’s house. The man reportedly tried to sleep with the woman, and he also sought oral sex from her. When she refused to comply, he settled for manual masturbation, which was a condition of the woman’s employment for nearly a decade. The man also forced the woman to watch pornography, fondled her breasts and often appeared naked in front of her, according to the complaint.

Police documents show that the woman quit her job in June, after her son graduated from high school and earned a college scholarship. She placed the resignation letter in the man’s dresser, in order to spare his wife the humiliation that might come with a public pronouncement.

The woman waited for several months after her resignation to call police. This is not surprising, considering the intimate nature of the alleged harassment. Victims often need time to process their horrifying experiences before they can discuss their harassment.

Police say they have not yet charged the man with any criminal action. Even if the man is not subject to criminal sanctions, however, the woman appears to have a clear case against him in civil court. She could recoup compensatory and punitive damages in civil court under a variety of statutes designed to protect American workers.

Source: CNN Justice, “Waffle House CEO accused of forcing employee to perform sex acts,” Nov. 12, 2012

Outcome of Supreme Court case may change harassment law

Name calling in Florida’s workplaces may not always be just name calling. For example, if the offensive conduct involves a protected category and is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, it could be against the law. In such event, your employer may be held accountable.

The United State Supreme Court recently agreed to hear such a case. What makes the case unique, however, is that its outcome may change the definition of supervisory liability for workplace harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case involves the sole African-American employee in the banquet and catering department of a state university. The employee alleges she was the victim of racial harassment by her coworkers and supervisors. The employee brought a hostile work environment claim against the university, believing it should be vicariously responsible for those actions. However, both a lower court and the Seventh Circuit dismissed the claim, determining that the employee had not established a legal basis for holding the state university liable.

Under current federal law — set by U.S. Supreme Court precedents — an employer can be held vicariously liable for severe or pervasive harassment in the workplace perpetrated by an employee’s supervisor. However, those decisions stop short of providing an unambiguous definition of supervisor. Some require daily oversight of an employee’s work, whereas other courts define a supervisor as anyone with hiring or firing authority.

To be illegal, workplace harassment must result in a hostile, abusive, or intimidating work environment for the employee based on a protected category, such as race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. A variety of conduct may qualify as offensive, including comments, images or jokes targeted at an individual.

Workplace harassment can negatively affect your work performance, future opportunities for career advancement, and cause you to think about quitting a job you enjoy. If you are being harassed by a coworker or employer in the workplace because of a protected category, you may be entitled to take legal action. An attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you might be able to bring a claim and obtain compensation.

Source: Business Insurance, “Supreme Court to clarify what constitutes a supervisor in harassment cases,” Judy Greenwald, June 26, 2012