Today the Times details the pervy nightmare endured by Martha Nyakim Gatkuoth, a 25-year-old former hostess at Tavern on the Green and the lead complainant in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant that was settled last month for $2.2 million. Among the indignities Gatkuoth says she had to put up with: regular boob and butt-grabbings by the restaurant's director of operations; docked pay when she refused to perform sexual favors on said director; and frequent racial epithets (she's an Ethiopian immigrant). Of course, restaurants have long had a rep as ridiculously brutal places to work—see Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or Bill Buford's Heat—but the proliferation of suits also has some (like, uh, the restaurateurs who are getting sued) wondering if it's all part of a shakedown to extract cash. (Presumably, a multi-million dollar settlement is cushier than collecting 18% tips every night for the next decade; when you factor in having to deal with the press—and lawyers!—perhaps not so much.) A sampling of sexual harassment suits at high-profile restaurants—including both the absolutely horrific and not-so-serious—below.
In January 2007 a waiter at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship sued the restaurant, claiming that employees harassed for being gay and "tricked into having simulated sex with a prostitute" at a party in 2004.
Harry Cipriani at the Sherry-Netherland
In November 2007 waitress Lastenia Torres sued the staff, claiming that male staff had made sexist comments to her and other female employees, including saying that "women are only good in bed," and that Giuseppe Cipriani did nothing when she complained to him about it.
Ex-waitress Satomi Southward filed a $20 million suit against the restaurant, claiming that line chef Herman Lawrence dropped a date-rape drug into her drink at a Christmas party and then groped her, and that chef Mitsuo Endo touched her breasts and butt with kitchen untensils, including a soup ladle.
In 1997, a hostess at the late four-star restaurant in the St. Regis filed a complaint against its maitre d' for sexual harassment, after which chef Gray Kunz fired her. Workers staged a walkout to protest and she was reinstated the following day. Kunz took a three-week break to "cool off" afterward.
Sutton Place Bar and Restaurant
Two waitresses represented by spotlight-loving attorney Joe Tacopina hit the establishment with a $15 million sexual harassment suit in September 2006, saying they endured the humiliation of having management weigh them regularly and track their weight on a spreadsheet.