May 31, 2012 -- Two waitresses will get their day in court against a New York City restaurant they've sued for sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, battery and a hostile work environment.
Kristen McRedmond and Alexandria Lipton were given the green light last week by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, which affirmed that the case should go to trial.
Both women waited tables and tended bar at Sutton Place Restaurant and Bar from August 2004 until they were both terminated in July 2006.
McRedmond, now a teacher, said that a nighttime shift manager, Neil Hanafy, made vulgar sexual comments and touched her inappropriately while she worked at the restaurant. Hanafy repeatedly asked her how much she weighed, she claims, and at one point picked her up to put her on a scale to settle a poll among male co-workers about her weight, according to her attorney, Rosemarie Arnold.
"This is an egregious case where disgusting men felt they could treat women in a demeaning manner, and it's clear that every judge on the [New York] Supreme Court ... and now the appellate decision affirms that's not behavior that's tolerated in the workplace," said Arnold.
In addition to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, battery and a hostile work environment, the two women are also alleging retaliatory termination and unlawful imprisonment, and are demanding $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages, according to the complaint.
McRedmond claimed "she was unlawfully imprisoned by Sutton Place when she was held in the manger's office after Hanafy attempted to weigh her," according to the court filing.
She said that when she refused to get on a scale, "Hanafy attempted to pick her up and put her on the scale. Allegedly, after McRedmond broke free from his grasp, she was told that she could not leave the office until she got weighed. McRedmond did leave the office within 10 minutes, although she claims to have been hysterically crying and disoriented."
Hanafy has denied wrongdoing, and the restaurant claims McRedmond and Lipton were fired for legitimate reasons.
Lipton, now an attorney, claimed that Hanafy asked her what she weighed in front of other waitresses and wrote in a note pad what he believed her weight was, which he denied doing. She also claimed he instructed Lipton and other waitresses on how to lose weight and had some of them weighed.
Lipton also claimed that Hanafy touched her weekly against her will by giving her massages and "pulling her close to him while she tried to escape his grasp," according to court documents.
Hanafy denied any inappropriate touching or comments. The restaurant denied that his alleged touching was inappropriate, "since he never propositioned Lipton for sex or grabbed her buttocks or chest," according to a court filing in New York Supreme Court that dismissed some of the plaintiffs' claims, including some specifically against the restaurant's owner and general manager.
Joshua Mallin, attorney for the restaurant, said the former waitresses' claims have been "vigorously denied by my clients."
"Ultimately what this appellate court decided was there were too many issues of fact," he said. "A jury will have to decide whether any of their claims are valid or whether, as the defendants contend, they completely have no basis in fact."
Lipton also said Hanafy told her she was not allowed to eat during her shift, which was sometimes 10 hours.
Lipton also said Hanafy asked her and another waitress to comment about certain sexual content in pornographic movies, according to a court filing. She also said he would "routinely" make comments about the bar's female customers by saying things like "She's a stupid [expletive], she's ugly, she's fat, she's disgusting, get her the [expletive] out of here," according to court records.
The restaurant disputes "the alleged comments made by Hanafy and claimed that any statements made constituted appropriate reprimands concerning McRedmond's habitual violations of Sutton Place's employment policies, and were merely to inform her of these infractions," according to a court filing.
The restaurant claims McRedmond's alleged violations included sending text messages, being on her phone during her shift and eating without permission during her shift.
Hanafy claims that the two had a "friendly relationship," and McRedmond would "often joke around with me about my weight, grab my stomach in connection therewith and also joke about my accent," according to court documents.
The restaurant denies asking the waitresses to provide their weight.
They do not deny that McRedmond may have been asked to get on a scale, but "they categorize the incident as a lighthearted exchange between McRedmond and Hanafy. They contend that two male employees were trying to lose weight (both being in excess of 400 pounds) and brought the scale into Sutton Place."
Mallin said McRedmond was on workplace probation at the time she was discharged. He said the company had disciplinary records for both McRedmond and Lipton with "different delinquencies that they had."
"Any suggestion that these documents were somehow manufactured or created after the fact because the employees didn't know about them is pure speculation and not supported by any fact. It's a naked allegation," he said.
He said "there was plenty of legitimate basis to terminate the individuals having nothing to do with the complaints or the result of any alleged conduct or any alleged harassment."
Another employee testified that McRedmond was "late all the time" while another waitress said she was a "good waitress" and a "good bartender."
McRedmond said she was not reprimanded for any alleged violations except for taking cigarette breaks. She said "Hanafy reprimanded her for smoking due to his personal opinion about smoking, rather than for violating a Sutton Place policy," according to a court filing.
"Anybody can make an accusation," Mallin said. "The appellate decision decided the jury is going to have to decide."