While the media has focused its #MeToo coverage largely on celebrities, most women who suffer sexual harassment in the workplace are in less glamorous jobs. Women in service industries often must fight off the advances not only of managers and co-workers, but customers in various stages of intoxication.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says it receives more complaints of sexual harassment from restaurant workers than employees in any other type of workplace.
One former Philadelphia waitress has been awarded $3 million after being injured by a customer who forcibly grabbed and kissed her in October of 2016. The woman worked at a restaurant in the city’s historic Rittenhouse Square.
According to her lawsuit, the man and his group had been dining and drinking at the upscale restaurant for several hours. When the waitress encountered him along with two other men in a hallway, the man, who runs a New Jersey mortgage bank, allegedly said, “You’ve been walking by me all night, and I want a kiss.” After he grabbed her neck, spun her around and forcibly kissed her, one of the other men said, “Now it’s my turn.” The attack was caught on a surveillance camera.
According to court documents, the group had become so loud and intoxicated that they were moved to a private room in the restaurant.
The woman’s injuries included a torn rotator cuff and resulting nerve damage. The mortgage banker admitted to his actions, but wasn’t charged criminally. However, he’s been ordered to pay punitive damages of $2.4 million and compensatory damages of $600,000.
There’s no indication that the woman is also holding the restaurant liable for her injuries. However, an attorney who founded Coalition for Restaurant Safety says that restaurants’ sexual harassment policies should help protect their workers from the actions of patrons as well as fellow employees. She notes that often their policies only address harassment by co-workers. However, the expectation of servers to be courteous to customers, coupled with the accessibility to alcohol, leaves these employees vulnerable. She says, “Some customers can feel entitled to your time [and] empowered to treat others however they want.”
Anyone who’s suffered injuries in the workplace due to the actions of a customer, vendor, client or other non-employee should look at their options for holding not only that person legally accountable, but their employer as well.