Brenna Gonzalez started working at Smith & Wollensky, a popular NYC steakhouse, as a college student in 2018. She was only 18 at the time, a young woman full of dreams in the big city. Soon enough, however, the reality revealed itself to be harsher than Brenna’s dreams. In a recent lawsuit, she tells the shocking story of how she was groped several times a day and had to endure "unwanted, disgusting and offensive" behavior during her time at the restaurant.
Gonzalez, a Tisch School of the Arts student, has not only pointed to her supervisors or colleagues, but also to clients. Her harrowing story sheds light on what women have to endure in the food service industry in New York regularly.
A Manhattan court will now have to decide whether the lawsuit has merit. According to the complaint, Gonzalez "was subjected to various acts of sexual harassment by her supervisors and coworkers" including instances of "her breasts, lower back, and buttocks [being] groped approximately 3 times per shift by staff and/or patrons, even after complaining of such conduct to her managers and/or supervisors."
The defendants named in the lawsuit include three corporations associated with the steakhouse, its CEO, its general manager, and several workers. The identities of the workers who allegedly harassed the plaintiff have not been made public.
What Gonzalez had to endure is unfortunately not a rarity in the industry today. According to a spokesperson, the plaintiff hopes her story will help expose “a systemic problem that exists in the restaurant industry and particularly at Smith & Wollensky,” and contribute to changing the culture so that no other woman has to suffer as horribly as she did.
A PR firm representing Smith & Wollensky was quick to state that Gonzalez’s claims had been "investigated and found. . . to be completely without merit."
Brenna Gonzalez stopped working for the defendant in May 2019. Her short time at the restaurant was enough for a random customer to kiss her “with no warning and no invitation.” At the same time, supervisors indicated she should allow the behavior to continue. She also stated that a colleague who had previously harassed colleagues insistently asked her to go out drinking with him, although she couldn’t legally drink alcohol yet. Colleagues told her they seldom spoke out about harassment because they were convinced that management wouldn’t believe them.
Gonzalez has also alleged that managers withheld tips from her “unless and until she performed certain sexualized favors for them, such as pouring water down the front of her white uniform shirt." She also claimed she was not appropriately compensated for overtime work.
Victims of sexual harassment while working in the food service industry in New York have many legal options available. If you or a loved one have been victimized, you can contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney for a complimentary assessment of your case.
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