Swami's Café sued over alleged sexual harassment of teenage workers
Swami’s Café in Encinitas allowed a manager to sexually harass young female workers, including teenage girls, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The lawsuit, filed May 17 in San Diego federal court, alleges the company, starting as early as 2019, had a "pattern of hiring teenage girls as young as 16 years old based on their appearance and vulnerability.”
The EEOC alleges Swami’s Café and its sister restaurant Honey's Bistro & Bakery violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a hostile work environment based on sex, including sexual harassment and retaliation against those who speak out.
The suit further alleges that the manager at the Encinitas 101 location, John Nolan, created a hostile work environment by inappropriately touching young female employees, making sexual comments and attempting to have a sexual relationship with them.
According to the complaint, Nolan would retaliate against workers who stood up and rebuffed his advances by scheduling them for undesirable shifts or firing them. The suit also alleges that Nolan resorted to physical violence when displeased with a female employee. He threw heavy receipt rolls and cardboard boxes at one employee in one instance.
The EEOC said the company did not take appropriate steps "to prevent and correct the harassment" despite multiple attempts at a settlement.
"It is crucial that employers act on reports of harassment in a timely manner and properly investigate all complaints of harassment in the workplace," EEOC's San Diego Office District Director Jacquelyn Famber said in a statement.
The EEOC said the hostile work environment was not limited to the chain’s original location on South Coast Highway 101. The company has locations in Vista, Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, La Mesa and San Diego. Cooks at Swami's Vista and dishwashers at Honey's Bistro would come up behind waitresses and grab them, some of the examples listed in the suit.
In a statement to KPBS, Swami's Café denies the allegations and said it "will vigorously defend against this lawsuit. We look forward to presenting our defense in court.”
The suit seeks monetary damages for the alleged victims and an injunction to prevent Swami’s from engaging in future discrimination.