N E W P O R T, Ky., July 21, 2000 -- A federal jury has ordered a Hootersrestaurant to pay $275,000 to a former waitress who filed a sexualharassment lawsuit against the restaurant.
Sara Steinhoff, 24, of Cincinnati, claimed in her lawsuit thatshe was the target of unwanted sexual advances, demeaning behaviorand recrimination from managers while she worked at the Hooters inNewport between October 1996 and October 1997.
She testified this week that her managers tried to force her togo home with them, and one even threatened to tie her up.
Other former waitresses also testified, saying that the managerswould “discipline” waitresses by forcing them to perform in therestaurant’s Friday Night Football bikini contest.
Also presented as evidence was a training manual given to newwaitresses that portrayed Hooters as a place where you could forgetyour “boyfriends’ latest disease.”
Hooters Vows To Fight Verdict
A nine-person jury of five women and four men deliberated formore than six hours in U.S. District Court in Covington onWednesday before unanimously deciding that the restaurant shouldpay $250,000 in punitive damages and $25,000 for emotional distressto Steinhoff.
“I just hope this makes a difference,” Steinhoff said afterthe verdict was announced. “I am happy for the women [who] are notgoing 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 believeit is wrong,” she said.
A statement issued by the company today said the verdict isunsupported by the evidence.
“During the trial, Miss Steinhoff admitted that she onlycomplained one time, in early 1997, about any problems withmanagement. … Miss Steinhoff continued to work at Hooters formore than six months and never again complained,” the statementsaid.
The supervisors who were accused of the harassment did nottestify, according to court records.
Not To Be ToleratedOther former waitresses testified that they were subjected tothe same type of behavior and that it permeated the workingenvironment.
“The verdict was significant because it demonstrates that arestaurant like Hooters cannot tolerate or condone sexualharassment by its supervisors,” said Randolph Freking, Steinhoff’sattorney.
Hooters, a Georgia-based national chain, is known for thephysiques of its waitresses, who work in tight orange shorts andT-shirts.