Female kitchen workers at a McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant in Boston were subjected to groping and lewd comments from male supervisors and co-workers, five women said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represents the women, says the complaint details a "humiliating" and "toxic" work environment at the upscale seafood and steak chain's location near Faneuil Hall.
The suit also highlights the abuse and harassment women in low-wage hospitality positions routinely face, even as sexual misconduct allegations have led to prominent resignations and firings in politics, media and film industries, said Sophia Hall, one of the women's attorneys.
"In the flood of recent stories of sexual misconduct in white-collar industries, it is easy to overlook the most vulnerable women," she said. "Our clients worked in precarious, low-wage positions. All they wanted was to support themselves and their families."
Representatives for the Landry's Inc., the Houston-based restaurant, casino and hotel operator that owns McCormick & Schmick's, responded to a request for comment Tuesday night, saying they're confident the women's original concerns were dealt with.
“McCormick and Schmick's strives to maintain a harassment free environment," said to Vice President of Human Resources Julia Liebelt in the statement. "When harassment of any type is reported, we take matters seriously and immediately investigate, resulting in swift, appropriate action. This case is no exception. Like most companies, we are not immune from bad characters."
"Well over two years ago when this matter was first reported in 2015, after a thorough investigation, an offending employee was immediately terminated, among other disciplinary actions," she added. "Although the EEOC and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination both declined to prosecute this matter, the Plaintiffs’ lawyers have latched on to the current frenzy concerning sexual harassment and filed a lawsuit citing inflammatory allegations that conflicted with statements of their own clients and that at least one independent eyewitness identified during our investigation said was untrue. We are confident that after we were put on notice, we did all we could to restore the work place to a harassment free environment and that we will prevail in the litigation.”
The lawsuit filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston seeks unspecified damages.
The women, most of whom have since left the restaurant chain, say they reported the lewd behavior to supervisors but were routinely ignored. They eventually brought their complaints to the company's human resources department, which took some disciplinary actions against male employees but denied the conduct amounted to sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.
The women then took their case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2015 ruled there was "reasonable cause" to believe the company discriminated against the women on the basis of their sex, the lawsuit states.
In the lawsuit, Marta Romero, a Chelsea resident who worked as a dishwasher at the restaurant from 2011 to 2015, alleges she was subjected to frequent groping and harassment from a sous chef.
"I felt powerless," she said through a translator, "like some object or animal."
"We are not famous, we are not gorgeous, but this happened to us and we deserve respect," she added.
Fabiana Santos, a Revere resident who worked as a prep cook from 2002 to 2015, said male employees, including a supervisor, made "disgusting sexual comments to her," and on at least one occasion sexually touched her.
And Gladys Fuentes, an East Boston resident who worked as a prep cook at the restaurant from 2015 to earlier this year, says she was groped and harassed by the executive chef.
"We spoke to a manager and we let him know what was happening and even after that it did not stop," she said.
McCormick & Schmick's has more than 50 locations across the country. The only other New England location is in Providence, Rhode Island.