Hooters Loses Sexual Harassment Case

N E W P O R T, Ky., July 21, 2000 -- A federal jury has ordered a Hooters restaurant to pay $275,000 to a former waitress who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the restaurant.  

Sara Steinhoff, 24, of Cincinnati, claimed in her lawsuit that she was the target of unwanted sexual advances, demeaning behavior and recrimination from managers while she worked at the Hooters in Newport between October 1996 and October 1997.

She testified this week that her managers tried to force her to go home with them, and one even threatened to tie her up.

Other former waitresses also testified, saying that the managers would “discipline” waitresses by forcing them to perform in the restaurant’s Friday Night Football bikini contest.

Also presented as evidence was a training manual given to new waitresses that portrayed Hooters as a place where you could forget your “boyfriends’ latest disease.”

Hooters Vows To Fight Verdict

A nine-person jury of five women and four men deliberated for more than six hours in U.S. District Court in Covington on Wednesday before unanimously deciding that the restaurant should pay $250,000 in punitive damages and $25,000 for emotional distress to Steinhoff.

“I just hope this makes a difference,” Steinhoff said after the verdict was announced. “I am happy for the women [who] are not going to be subjected to this type of atmosphere anymore.”

The lawsuit’s defendant was Upriver Restaurant Joint Venture, listed as owners of the Hooters in Newport. Shannon Herlihy, president of the joint venture, said the company will appeal.

“We will fight this in any legal way we can, because we believe it is wrong,” she said.

A statement issued by the company today said the verdict is unsupported by the evidence.

“During the trial, Miss Steinhoff admitted that she only complained one time, in early 1997, about any problems with management. … Miss Steinhoff continued to work at Hooters for more than six months and never again complained,” the statement said.

The supervisors who were accused of the harassment did not testify, according to court records.

Not To Be Tolerated Other former waitresses testified that they were subjected to the same type of behavior and that it permeated the working environment.

“The verdict was significant because it demonstrates that a restaurant like Hooters cannot tolerate or condone sexual harassment by its supervisors,” said Randolph Freking, Steinhoff’s attorney.

Hooters, a Georgia-based national chain, is known for the physiques of its waitresses, who work in tight orange shorts and T-shirts.