Restaurant named in same-sex harassment - East Valley Tribune: Business

Restaurant named in same-sex harassment

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Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2007 6:37 am | Updated: 6:15 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A lawsuit against a Scottsdale steakhouse claims samesex harassment of employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Phoenix office on Tuesday filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit against the owners of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in alleged incidents that occurred at the pricey chain’s DC Ranch eatery, EEOC regional attorney Mary Jo O’Neill said.

The suit charged that management harassed employee Jonathan Pilkington and at least five other men, with “demeaning touching of their intimate body parts as well as unwelcome sexual comments.”

The EEOC further charged that the restaurant fired Pilkington because he complained about the harassment.

All of the alleged harassment occurred at the DC Ranch Fleming’s, O’Neill said.

Fleming’s also has a restaurant in the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and another in Chandler.

The pricey chain, founded in 1998 by renowned restaurateur Paul Fleming and frequent business partner William Allen III, and now owned by OSI Restaurant Partners, has 50 locations spanning the country.

Florida-based OSI is parent to Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Roy’s and several other national brands.

O’Neill said she does not know of any harassment actions against other Fleming’s locations.

Company officials said they will fight the charges.

“Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has always been committed to a workplace free of harassment for all our associates. We are disappointed that the EEOC chose to bring this action as we believe it is without merit and we will vigorously defend,” Joseph Kadow, executive vice president of OSI Restaurant Partners, said in a statement.

O’Neill said the EEOC is seeking back pay for Pilkington, disciplinary action against those who committed the harassment, punitive damages, “policy and procedures that work,” and sexual harassment training for all the staff.

She said the EEOC tried to settle the matter outside of court to no avail.

The suit against Fleming’s is the third on the Phoenix office’s agenda that involves men harassing men, O’Neill said. The other two — against a restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., and a construction company in Kingman — are similar and involve grabbing, groping and other aggressive physical activities, in some cases amounting to sexual assault rather than just harassment, she said.

At least 15 percent of the sexual harassment cases the EEOC handles are complaints by men about men, she said.

“I don’t know if it’s becoming more frequent, but more men are reporting it,” O’Neill said.

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