Sexual Harassment at a Diner: How Would You React?

PHOTO What would you do if you saw a restaurant manager sexually harassing a new waitress?ABC News
What would you do if you saw a restaurant manager sexually harassing a new waitress?

Young female employees in low-wage positions at restaurants or in retail may be exceptionally vulnerable to sexual harassment. Managers might target young women because they have little experience in the workplace and are eager to please the boss.

"What Would You Do?" decided to see what would happen if customers at a diner patrons actually saw a manager making sexual overtures to a recently-hired young woman working as a hostess.

Would patrons notice the manager's inappropriate touching and remarks? Would they intercede -- or simply dismiss the behavior as harmless flirtation?

Find out on "What Would You Do?" this Friday at 10 p.m. ET

It is a Friday morning at a suburban diner in New Jersey. The customers are greeted by Jennifer, a young, shy hostess..

In front of everyone in the middle of the dining room, it is clear that Scott, the restaurant manager, makes Jennifer, the hostess, uncomfortable. He caresses her hair, telling her to relax.

"You've got to loosen up... if your hair is back they [customers] can see you," Scott says.

Jennifer rejects her manager's crude advances. But what no one knows is that the reluctant hostess and her creepy boss Scott are actors -- and ABC's hidden cameras are rolling.

Scott walks up to a table of four men and introduces them to his new employee, Jennifer.

"That's our new hostess... first day on the job," Scott said. "Jenn, say 'Hi' to the guys. Isn't she something?"

One of the customers is not amused. He tells Scott he thinks Jennifer is feeling a little uncomfortable.

But her boss does not take the hint. In front of everyone, he pushes silverware to the floor to trick Jennifer into bending over so he can observe her from behind.

That little stunt is enough to make the four customers request a move to another area.

Sexual Harassment: 'It's a Guy's Thing'

When Scott asks why they want to move, Clemente Gutierrez, one of the businessmen at the table, says, "You're not only making the girl uncomfortable, you're making us uncomfortable."

But Scott continues the act. "Oh, she doesn't mind that, it's a guy's thing," he said.

When Scott walks away the men rally behind Jennifer. "Seriously, you don't have to put up with this…" Gutierrez tells her. He goes one step further -- he personally offers her a job at his nearby office.

But she tells him it is her first day on the job and she cannot just leave in the middle of her shift.

Two female customers at a nearby table hear this and tell her she absolutely could leave because her boss was behaving inappropriately.

Sexual Harassment Goes Unreported

Almost half of all women experience sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the National Women's Law Center. Many never report it, fearing retaliation or job loss.

When new diners come into the restaurant, the experiment continues. One customer, J.C. Svec, is visibly upset but waits almost 30 minutes before confronting the manager.

"I don't think you have the right to treat her the way you're treating her," Svec says.

"What bothered you?" asks Scott.

"The way you were talking to her, the way you were treating her, the way you were touching her," says Svec. "The way you looked at her, the way you were yelling at her... how's that for a beginning list of problem?"

Later, Svec told us he waited to react because he didn't know if Jenn could afford to lose her job. He was afraid his complaint could have resulted in her getting fired.

Sexual Harassment: Why Do Men Step In?

In our first few scenarios, it was men who stood up for our shy, vulnerable-looking hostess. Raquel Bergen, a professor at Saint Joseph's University, studies aggression against women. She explained why this happens.

"If you look frail, if you look vulnerable, if you look weak, then maybe men are more likely to step in and treat you like that daughter figure and feel like you need protection," Bergen said.

In fact, many young women who witnessed the manager's repulsive behavior didn't know what to do. Bergen told us the most important thing an observer can do is try to help the victim with whatever they need -- whether it's just a shoulder to lean on or the encouragement to report the harassment.

Later, we decided to repeat the experiment with an actress, Ashley Carpenter, who was dressed provocatively.

She wore a body-hugging, off-the-shoulder red dress that caught everyone's eye -- including our sexually aggressive manager, Scott.

In front of all the customers he groped Ashley and threatened retaliation. "I'm going to take away a shift if you don't start smiling, OK?" Scott said.

Would Ashley's provocative attire change diners' reactions to the harassment?

Find out on "What Would You Do?" this Friday at 10 p.m. ET