Attorney General, Division on Civil Rights Announce $110,000 Settlement of Charges that Restaurant Tolerated Sexual Harassment, Racism

TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that a Passaic County restaurant must pay a total of $80,000 to seven employees and ex-employees to resolve allegations it fostered a daily climate of unlawful discrimination in the form of sexual harassment and racism.

Of the overall settlement money to be paid out by the Alexus Steakhouse & Tavern in Clifton, $50,000 will be paid to a female employee who the State investigation found to be a victim of sexual harassment. A total of $30,000 will go to employees who experienced alleged racist comments and national origin discrimination.

In addition to paying the seven individual complainants, the steakhouse must implement a variety of policy and training reforms designed to prevent workplace discrimination going forward. The restaurant also has been assessed a $30,000 suspended penalty by the Division. It must pay the full amount if it fails to comply with the settlement terms in any way, or is found to have committed a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) within the next three years.

The settlement announced today resolves allegations that, Alexus’ owner told Division investigators, flowed from the conduct of one individual who was hired to manage the restaurant. That manager has since been terminated, and the owner has cooperated fully with the Sate’s investigation. Attorney General Porrino noted, however, that while the owner’s cooperation and dismissal of the offending manager were to the restaurant’s credit, the allegedly unlawful conduct went on for the better part of a year.

“Much of the conduct alleged in this case is the kind of conduct that’s at the heart of the national discussion on workplace harassment – particularly sexual harassment –taking place right now,” said Porrino. “Whether we’re talking about a Hollywood movie set or the kitchen of a local restaurant, subjecting employees to sexual innuendo, sexual propositions and inappropriate touching is wrong and cannot be allowed to stand.”
“Likewise,” Porrino said, “there is no room in the workplace for racist remarks and/or derogatory comments about people of a particular ethnicity or culture. It is unlawful, it is wrong, and we are committed to standing up for anyone who has been subjected to such conduct.”

Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara called the Alexus Steakhouse settlement “important beyond mere dollars.”

“Six of the seven complainants in this case continue to work at the restaurant where they like their jobs and the owner,” said Sashihara. “As a result of this settlement, the restaurant has created a formal anti-discrimination policy—in Spanish and English—and posted it conspicuously in the facility. The restaurant has also instituted an internal complaint process and scheduled training to ensure that all understand and follow the law.”

A Division investigation found that the bulk of Alexus’ mostly Hispanic kitchen workers and servers claimed to have either experienced sexual harassment or race-based discrimination directly, or witnessed discriminatory conduct imposed on co-workers by John Magliaro, a former restaurateur who was hired in July 2015 to manage the eatery and tavern.

Among other sexual harassment allegations, one female employee told the Division that Magliaro once slapped a fellow female employee on the buttocks as she leaned over a table. In another instance, the manager allegedly pulled the elastic waistband of a female worker’s pants, exposing her buttocks.

Magliaro also allegedly told a female employee who asked why she’d been passed over to work as a bartender – in favor of another female employee — that it was because the chosen female employee had “great” breasts. The manager went on to inquire about when there might be an opportunity for three-way sex with both women, according to the employee.

According to multiple complainants, Magliaro peppered the workers daily with ethnic insults such as “stupid Mexicans,” “illegals” and as “illiterate.” He also allegedly urged the steakhouse owner to “get a white kitchen because they’ll listen.”

When interviewed by Division investigators, Magliaro denied all allegations of unlawful conduct. He said he made no sexually harassing comments and never used racist slurs. He also denied having engaged in any unwanted touching or other inappropriate behavior toward female employees.

He did, however, acknowledge being cautioned by the restaurant owner, Kitae Kim, for “swearing and being too loud” in addressing restaurant employees, who he claimed were often inattentive or insubordinate.

 The restaurant owner, Kim, told Division investigators he felt some employees might be resentful of Magliaro because the manager was trying to implement renovations and updates at the restaurant – including changes to the menu and hiring new cooks.

Division Director Sashihara issued a Finding of Probable Cause against Alexus Steakhouse in July 2016, noting that allegations of sexual harassment and racist conduct – and a failure by ownership and management to take any corrective action to address the situation — had been corroborated by 10 current and former employees.

Those 10 witnesses, Sashihara noted, included five members of the kitchen staff, four servers and one manager – a bi-lingual female employee who’d been assigned to act as liaison between Magliaro and the staff, but who resigned in February 2016 because of the allegedly hostile work environment.

The Finding of Probable Cause noted that, in addition to the corroborated allegations of hostile work environment, the Division found no “persuasive” evidence that Alexus had any effective policies or procedures in place to help workers who believed they’d been sexually harassed or otherwise discriminated against.

Attorney General Porrino said the Alexus settlement “shows that employees need not simply absorb and accept alleged harassment and discrimination in the workplace.”

“No employee should have to suffer the kind of hostile workplace conditions alleged in this case,” Porrino said. “Workers in New Jersey who believe they are being discriminated against on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender or religion have recourse. They can report the conduct to us, and we will take action.”

The Attorney General added that he hopes the Alexus settlement will “send a message to employers across the state that we take sexual harassment, racist remarks and other unlawful discrimination very seriously, and will hold accountable not only those who engage in it, but those who tolerate it.”

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