Eater New York reported that Babbo LLC, owned and operated by world renowned celebrity Chef Mario Batali, is one of six defendants in a lawsuit filed by a former employee of the New York City restaurant. In papers filed on May 17, 2017 in Brooklyn, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Kings, Isaac Franco Nava (Franco) claims that several individually named defendants sexually harassed him during his employment as a pastry chef. The case alleges the restaurant and its employees violated the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) when they called Franco names disparaging his race and sexual orientation.
NYSHRL and NYCHRL prohibit discrimination in employment, which includes harassment. NYHRL states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant because of various characteristics including age, gender, national origin, religion, familial status and sexual orientation. Unlike the comparable federal employment discrimination law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York specifically protects individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sexual orientation includes actual or perceived “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or asexuality.”
Most provisions of NYHRL apply to businesses in New York with four or more employees. However, with regard to sexual harassment, the law was amended, effective January 19, 2015, to apply to all employers in New York.
The New York State Division of Human Rights and New York Department of Labor developed guidelines for examples of conduct that may constitute unlawful sexual harassment, including: “Sexually oriented remarks, jokes or comments about a person’s sexuality or sexual experience which are sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.” The conduct can also include unwanted physical contact, sexual propositions and the unwanted exposure to racy pictures.
Was the alleged behavior of the staff at Babbo sufficient to create a hostile work environment for Franco? He claims he was unlawfully harassed based on his national origin/race (Mexican/Hispanic) and sexual identity (homosexual). In his lawsuit, Eater reports that Franco claimed he “was subjected to regular and frequent discrimination based upon sexual orientation and race by his co-workers.”
Franco alleges in his claim that the conduct was abusive, threatening, demeaning and embarrassing. He also contends that despite reporting the behavior and its effects on him, the restaurant did not take sufficient steps to protect his workplace rights. Instead, management allowed the harassment and discrimination to continue. Employers have legal obligations to try and rectify workplace harassment when it occurs. Babbo allegedly disciplined the employees after Franco’s initial complaint, but when the behavior continued, Franco claims, the restaurant fired him.
Franco’s lawsuit includes a claim of retaliation; that he was fired from his job because he began complaining about the harassment. NYSHRL and NYCHRL prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee who complains about or files a claim to stop harassment or other illegal discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Retaliation can include taking any adverse employment action such as a giving someone a demotion, transfer or pay cut. Most often, it involves termination.
Babbo’s position is that the restaurant terminated Franco’s employment because of stealing. Franco claims that the restaurant created a false pretext for firing him to mask the real reason: retaliation for exercising his legal rights.
If the facts in the complaint turn out to be true, Babbo may find itself paying damages to Franco. Damages can include money for lost wages, emotional distress and more. Several years ago, Babbo settled a class action wage and tip lawsuit for over 5 million dollars. Time will tell what, if anything, Franco will receive.
Employees in New York City turn to Leeds Brown P.C. when they experience sexual harassment and discrimination. Our employment lawyers have spent decades achieving the best possible results for clients in all industries who face workplace discrimination. Call Leeds Brown for a free evaluation of your sexual harassment claim today at 1-800-585-4658.