Honolulu restaurant, HR company settle EEOC suit claiming co-owner targeted gay workers for harassment

Dive Brief:

  • A former Honolulu-based restaurant and its outsourced human resources company agreed to pay $115,000 and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit (EEOC v. Aged Artisans LLC, Surfeit Group LLC, Altres, Inc.) filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission, the agency said Tuesday. EEOC first tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process, the agency said. 
  • The co-owner of Aged Artisans LLC and Surfeit Group LLC, doing business as the Square Barrels restaurant, allegedly targeted gay employees for sexual harassment by exposing his genitals at work, asking for oral sex and commenting on male workers’ sexual orientation, according to the agency. The company’s HR company, Altres, allowed the harassment to continue, because it didn’t conduct a proper investigation, EEOC alleged.
  • Under the three-year consent decree, Aged Artisans/Surfeit Group and Altres agreed to enact equal employment opportunity monitoring; revise their policies addressing discrimination and harassment; and provide anti-discrimination training.

Dive Insight:

More than one-third of charges filed with EEOC allege harassment, EEOC Honolulu office Director Raymond Griffin Jr. said. Of the 143 merit lawsuits EEOC filed in fiscal year 2023, about 35% involved allegations of harassment. 

“The EEOC continues to see sexual harassment in the restaurant and hospitality industries, including against members of the LGBTQI+ community,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Hawaii, said in a statement. 

The co-owner’s alleged harassment occurred several times weekly and involved “slapping employees’ butts,” asking them for oral sex, exposing himself to them in the restaurant office or on the building’s rooftop and “outing” their sexuality, according to court documents. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex or, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia ruling in 2020, based on sexual orientation. Harassment based on sex can include expressing sexual attraction; sexual conduct, harassment or violence; and nonsexual conduct, such as using sex-based epithets or sexual comments, EEOC said in updated harassment guidance issued in April.