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Feds sue restaurant for alleged sexual harassment
A Michigan restaurant with a location in Grand Rapids is facing a federal lawsuit over alleged sexual harassment and retaliation against a former female employee.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, filed the suit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on behalf of Jessica Werthen and “other similarly aggrieved female employees” against Georgina’s LLC, dba Georgina’s Taqueria in Traverse City.
There is another Georgina’s in Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Street neighborhood.
The suit accuses Georgina’s Taqueria owner and head chef Gregory Anthony Craig of engaging in “sex discrimination” and “inappropriate physical contact” with female employees at the Traverse City location.
The suit alleges that Craig engaged in touching the women on their “buttocks, legs, chest and/or crotch areas, forcing them to sit on his lap, and kissing and/or hugging them without consent.”
Matthew Vermetten, an attorney with Pezzetti, Vermetten & Popovits in Traverse City who is representing Georgina’s Taqueria, said they have not yet been served legal documents regarding the lawsuit. He said he expects to receive them early next week.
“We will emphatically deny the allegations,” Vermetten said.
A court date has not yet been set.
The suit alleges that Werthen verbally complained to Craig and another manager about Craig’s “sexual commentary” in early January 2016. The suit claims that after the verbal complaint, Craig “stripped her of authority in the kitchen, gave her less favorable shifts, cut her hours and was openly hostile and verbally abusive towards her.”
On Feb. 7, 2016, Werthen submitted a written complaint of sexual harassment by Craig to another member of management. The suit claims that “within 10 minutes of Werthen submitting the complaint, Craig received it and immediately terminated her.”
Vermetten said Werthen was terminated but declined to say why. However, Vermetten said “it had absolutely nothing to do with the allegations.”
In the lawsuit, the EEOC is requesting that the defendant give backpay with pre-judgment interest, in amounts to be determined at trial, provide compensation for past and future pecuniary losses “resulting from the unlawful practices” and pay Werthen and other similarly situated women punitive damages for its “malicious and reckless conduct” described in the suit.
The EEOC is also requesting that Georgina’s Taqueria be ordered to “institute and carry out policies, practices and programs which provide equal employment opportunities for female employees and which eradicate the effects of its past and present unlawful employment practices.”