Mike Chase, 72, a candidate for mayor in Knoxville, Tennessee and owner of several restaurants is being sued for sexual harassment and a hostile work environment by one of his wait staff. The server, Ana Tipton Budzynski, along with her husband, Alexander Budzynski, filed the lawsuit in early January after an incident occurring on December 18.
Tipton Budzynski says she felt humiliated, and is seeking $14 million in damages. In addition to Chase, the Copper Cellar Restaurant and the company’s human resources director are also named in the suit.
The lawsuit also seeks the formation of a company task force to implement a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, as well as the creation of a sexual harassment hotline and independent investigations of any future complaints. The suit also wants to have any sexual harassment incidents by Chase reported “automatically” to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
Sexually Explicit Comments
According to Tipton Budzynski, Chase and two friends were having dinner at his Copper Cellar West restaurant on the night in question. The server alleges Chase made “persistent, sexually explicit comments” to her during the meal, and that he had previously made such comments.
In addition to calling her beautiful, Tipton Budzynski alleges Chase said, “We could have sex all day long.” The lawsuit states that other female employees have experienced similar harassment from Chase over the years, but does not name any other potential victims.
Nothing Can Be Done – He’s the Boss
Tipton Budzynski, who has worked as a server in Chase’s restaurant for the past five years, apparently followed company policy and filed a complaint with the company’s director of human resources, Rick Eldridge, who is also named in the lawsuit. Tipton Budzynski claims she informed Eldridge that Chase’s comments were “unwelcome and offensive.” She says Eldridge told her that her complaint was addressed, but was not given any documentation or witness statements from the supposed internal investigation.
Eldridge allegedly told Tipton Budzynski that the only outcome was that Chase was asked to stay away from her. However, Eldridge added that if Chase didn’t do so, there was nothing else to be done, because, “He’s the boss.”
Tipton Budzynski alleges that Eldridge had said he would work quickly to resolve the problem but he actually did little or nothing. In addition, Tipton Budzynski says her father told the restaurant management that they should not try and sweep this incident under the rug.
A Mayoral Filing
Chase, who owns a total of 20 restaurants in the local area, filed paperwork in August to run for mayor this year. His paperwork did not include party affiliation, although he has long been a Democrat. He is seeking to oust Mayor Madeline Rogero, who has been in office since 2011 and is also a Democrat. Chase refused to comment on the lawsuit.
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