According to the New York Attorney General’s Office, a Manhattan bar agreed Wednesday to pay $500,000 to current and former employees who claimed managers called them “cows,” made comments about their underwear, and used racial slurs to refer to colleagues of certain ethnicities.
Sweet and Vicious in New York’s Nolita neighborhood was described by the attorney general’s office as a “hostile and discriminatory workplace,” with employees subjected to sex discrimination, sexual and gender-based harassment, and race and national origin discrimination.
Hakan Karamahmutoglu, the bar’s owner, was accused of making inappropriate comments about employees’ race, sexuality, bodies, and appearances. According to the attorney general’s office, employees were subjected to unwanted sexual advances from managers and customers.
“This settlement serves as a reminder that we will not tolerate sexual harassment, discrimination, or wage theft in the workplace, regardless of the perpetrator,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “For far too long, workers in the hospitality industry have been subjected to an unreported culture of sexual harassment and discrimination.”
The agreement comes at the end of a 16-month investigation into allegations leveled against Karamahmutoglu, Sweet, and Vicious. According to the attorney general’s office, documents, records, and interviews with current and former employees revealed a pervasive culture of discrimination and a pattern of harassment.
Karamahmutoglu, according to investigators, routinely insulted female employees, calling them “b———” and “cows,” and scrutinized their appearance, commenting on their bodies and clothing. Multiple female employees were sexually harassed by male managers who made unwanted sexual advances, including one instance of an employee announcing the color of a female bartender’s underwear and saying he wanted to engage her in a sexual manner, as well as a manager finding opportunities to rub himself up against a female employee on a regular basis.
Several female bartenders reported being harassed on a regular basis by violent customers who threatened to stab, rape, or beat them.
“I wish I could say this was the first time I was harassed by my service industry employer, or even the first time I received a settlement for nonpayment of wages.” “This case exemplifies two intersecting national issues: worker subjugation and workplace sexual harassment of women,” said Veronica Leventhal, a former Sweet and Vicious employee. “Sweet and Vicious is not an outlier; it is a prime example of how men in positions of unchecked power exploit their employees.”
Karamahmutoglu is accused of referring to Black employees as “gangsters” and a Puerto Rican manager as a “terrorist” and “Puerto Rican trash.” The owner and managers were also known to use anti-gay slurs.
The agreement requires the revision of anti-discrimination and harassment training materials, as well as the display and distribution of notices regarding anti-discrimination and harassment rights and responsibilities, in addition to the payment of $500,000 to the workers. Sweet and Vicious will also be subject to ongoing monitoring and oversight, including the submission of compliance reports to the attorney general’s office.
“My time at Sweet and Vicious reinforced traumas that I will undoubtedly spend years trying to overcome in therapy.” “It was without a doubt the most abusive company I have ever had the misfortune of working for,” a former Sweet and Vicious employee identified only as former employee No. 2 said. “The racial, sexual, and gendered humiliation and degradation that myself and my coworkers silently endured is more than anyone should ever have to endure while attempting to earn a living.”