Female workers sue McCormick & Schmick’s over sexual harassment in workplace

Five female kitchen workers in Boston are suing an upscale restaurant chain alleging they were subjected to constant groping and lewd behavior from male supervisors and co-workers.

The women worked at the McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant at near historic Faneuil Hall in Boston as dishwashers, cleaners and prep cooks. The suit alleges:

• An executive chef grabbed his crotch and said, “This is your food.”

• A coworker rubbed his groin against a woman’s back after pinning her against a table.

• A sous chef trapped a woman in a walk-in fridge and groped her.

• A supervisor and a co-worker made jokes about oral sex.

McCormick & Schmick’s (Photo: Handout)

McCormick & Schmick’s is a seafood dinner house chain started by Bill McCormick and Doug Schmick that’s been around since the 1970s. On its website, it states: “McCormick & Schmick’s “people-focus” extends to our employees as well, whom we treat with the utmost respect and for whom we provide growth opportunities at many levels.”

The chain has no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

Fair Work P.C. and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Marta Romero, Fabiana Santos, Gladys Fuentes, Santiago Cruz and Milagro Alvarez in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Tuesday.

In court documents, they described their work environment as “humiliating and sexually offensive.” The incidents alleged occurred in 2014 and 2015.

The women allege that McCormick & Schmick’s general manager Barry Young failed to take appropriate action and that the human resources department’s investigation resulted in only remedial actions.

The plaintiffs also say McCormick & Schmick denied that the lewd behavior was sexual in nature.

“The harassment that I endured made me feel humiliated. When I get home, all I can do is think about what has happened. I cry a lot. I cannot sleep at night,” Fuentes said.

According to the lawsuit, the women filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that McCormick & Schmick’s had discriminated against the women on the basis of their sex.

“I feel like I am being treated like a prostitute, when I am a mother and I deserve respect,” Cruz said.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice says the lawsuit also highlights the plight of women in low-wage positions like prep cooks and dishwashers. It comes as allegations of sexual misconduct roil white-collar industries like politics, media and film.

Examples include Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein; actor Kevin Spacey; Pixar co-founder John Lasseter; journalist Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Glenn Thrush and Ryan Lizza; radio personality Garrison Keillor; comedian Louis C.K.; NFL Network analysts  Marshall Faulk, Ike Taylor and Heath Evans; U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.); and U.S. Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.)

The Boston lawsuit comes the day after celebrity chef Mario Batali announced he was stepping down from his duties at the approximately two dozen restaurants owns, following sexual misconduct allegations in a story by in online food publication Eater New York.

Since then, ABC temporarily removed Batali as co-host of the daytime TV show The Chew and the Food Network has nixed plans to bring back Batali’s show, Molto Mario. Plus, Batali’s cookware is no longer for sale on the housewares retailer Bed Bath & Beyond’s website.

Two months ago, sexual harassment allegations prompted New Orleans-based celebrity chef John Besh to resign from his restaurant group.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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