Former Employees Granted Summary Judgment in Sexual Harassment Case

In a rare decision, a New York court awarded summary judgment against an employer in a sexual harassment case brought by three former employees. D’Annunzio v. Ayken, Inc. (E.D.N.Y 2014). The former employees are sisters who worked as hosts for a seafood and kebab restaurant on Long Island. During their employment, the sisters were subjected to unwanted sexual comments, vulgar sexual motions, being slapped on the buttocks, and having their breasts touched. A dishwasher sexually assaulted one of the sisters and was criminally convicted for the assault and deported.

The restaurant’s general manager allegedly overheard comments made to the sisters and laughed. When the sisters complained about the conduct, the general manager failed to address it. The restaurant did not display anti-harassment posters while the sisters worked there. In addition, despite the fact that most of the kitchen staff spoke primarily Spanish, the restaurant did not provide a Spanish translation of the employee handbook.

The sisters moved for summary judgment, arguing that their situation was so egregious the court should find in their favor, without a trial, because there were no facts in dispute. The court agreed and stated that the “outlandish” behavior of the employer compelled judgment in the sisters’ favor. The court also held that the sexual assault on one sister alone was enough to establish a hostile work environment.

This case underscores the importance of employers having anti-harassment policies available to all workers, and of taking all harassment complaints seriously. Employers must train staff, particularly supervisors and managers, in harassment prevention, and supervisors and managers should be trained how to respond to complaints. Finally, employers must ensure that all complaints are investigated. Contact MSEC with your questions and for assistance.