Restaurant Hapa might have been one of the 50 best restaurants in America, according to Gourmet magazine, but Bernadette Zavala said it was the worst place she ever worked.
Federal officials filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the posh Scottsdale eatery, alleging that owner Ron Walker sexually harassed Zavala over a four-month period while she served $29 beef tenderloin and $30 sea bass. The restaurant complaint was one of three lawsuits leveled against Arizona businesses by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Zavala, a waitress in her early 20s, began work at Restaurant Hapa in March. Zavala left at the end of June, said her attorney, Ron Greenhalgh.
"She felt she couldn't stay there any longer," said Greenhalgh, a Mesa-based sexual harassment lawyer. "The guy really frightened her."
Walker made comments about Zavala's body and told her he wanted to sleep with her, Greenhalgh said.
"Fortunately for her, he didn't come in every day," Greenhalgh said. "Whenever he did come in, she did have a problem with him."
Walker did not return repeated calls by the Tribune to the restaurant or his offices.
Forty percent of complaints handled by the federal panel's Phoenix office in fiscal 2002 dealt with sexual harassment. Of the 42 cases in litigation, 12 are sexual harassment cases, said P. David Lopez, an EEOC lawyer.
The Hapa case could be settled immediately, or it could go to trial and be resolved in 18 months to two years, Lopez said.
Zavala would not comment on the filing. "I think she was pleased that the EEOC saw the facts the way she presented them," Greenhalgh said of Zavala’s reaction. "It's always nice to have the government vindicate your position."
The former waitress plans to file a lawsuit against Walker and the restaurant, Greenhalgh said.
Gourmet magazine named the restaurant one of America's best in 2000.