New York City’s Upper East Side is in a tizzy because Nello, a local restaurant, has banned single women from eating at the bar because they might be escorts. That might sound outlandish, but the solicitation of customers by escorts seems to be an issue for some high end restaurants. I recently met with a server, we’ll call her Jane, who has worked for several local restaurants. According to Jane, she has seen escorts in action, along with restaurant managers and owners who serve as the go-between the madam and celebrities to place the escorts in strategic locations throughout the restaurant. Jane also said that one restaurant in particular makes it a point to hire hostesses who are young, beautiful, and new to Miami. Jane said she has heard the instructions from managers to the young hostesses to do whatever is necessary to make the celebrities and athletes happy, including going on dates. Jane says she has seen several of these young women leave the hostess position and go on to become escorts or date the celebrities they encounter at the restaurant. Meanwhile, Jane says, single women who sit at the bar are sometimes mistaken for escorts by patrons.
Although some restaurants may encourage escorts, what can a restaurant do if to prevent illicit sexual conduct and harassment? Nello’s answer is discriminate against all unaccompanied women with their new seating policy. Restaurants could be fertile ground for hostile work environment claims if restaurant management directs servers to look the other way and for hostesses to enable and participate in the sexual gratification of patrons as a condition of employment. One approach is for restaurants to adopt a system like the restaurant Homeroom in Oakland, California. Homeroom’s owner described her color-coded system in the Washington Post as a system in which:
different types of customer behavior are categorized as yellow, orange or red. Yellow refers to a creepy vibe or unsavory look. Orange means comments with sexual undertones, such as certain compliments on a worker’s appearance. Red signals overtly sexual comments or touching, or repeated incidents in the orange category after being told the comments were unwelcome.”
Homeroom’s staff are instructed to report harassment or unsavory behavior to the manager according to the color and the manager must take specific action such as taking over the table if “orange” is reported or ejecting the customer from the restaurant if “red” is reported. This system seems like an effective way to protect the restaurant’s staff and handle illicit activity without discriminating against female patrons.
Security cameras are another way that restaurants can work toward cracking down on bad behavior. For example, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia installed security cameras after several servers reported assault by a customer, but the police were unable to press charges due to insufficient evidence. One of the servers, Emilia Holden, stopped a customer and called the police after he touched her butt in appropriately. The customer was charged with sexual battery after the police reviewed the security footage.
If you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.