The restaurant industry has recently been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct by several high-profile celebrity chefs, including Mario Batali, Johnny Iuzzini and John Besh, but a new report from Vox suggests that the supervisors at a couple of casual-dining chains haven’t been behaving themselves, either.
According to court documents obtained by the site, more than 60 women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against managers, co-workers and franchise owners of Applebee’s and IHOP, with complaints ranging from groping and inappropriate comments to outright threats of violence when one manager’s requests for sex were denied.
In total, Vox found that IHOP and Applebee’s, which are both owned by a California-based firm called DineEquity, have been involved in eight federal sexual harassment lawsuits — four naming IHOP employees, four naming Applebee’s employees — since 2010. The site further noted that this was the most of any individual restaurant chain during that time.
In once class-action case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against two IHOP owners in Illinois on behalf of 11 female employees and one male employee, including one woman who was 16 years old at the time of the alleged harassment.
The suit, which was filed in 2017, alleges that one of the restaurant’s general managers, Rami Ramadan, had told several of the women they were “sexy,” adding that their “pants looked good.” The same manager was also accused of harassing the 16-year-old when she worked at the IHOP several years back, and threatening violence when she refused his advances.
“Don’t make me get violent babe, and take what I want,” he allegedly told her via text message.
Then, in 2012, Ramadan allegedly grabbed the girl from behind and held a knife to her throat, telling her he didn’t appreciate hearing the word “no,” Vox reported.
“Don’t make me get violent babe, and take what I want."
Employees for the same IHOP were also accused of groping the servers’ breasts and buttocks against their will, and were met with indifference upon reporting the behavior to Ramadan.
Ramadan’s brother, Khalid Ramadan, owned both Illinois IHOP restaurants named in that particular lawsuit. An attorney representing Ramadan declined to comment on any pending litigation.
A similar lawsuit was filed against the owners of Las Vegas and New York locations, on behalf of servers who claimed that managers disregarded complaints of sexual harassment by male employees.
The EOCC has also filed lawsuits on behalf of two sisters who worked at Applebee’s in South Carolina, both of whom claim their assistant manager would rub himself against their bodies or grope them.
Another case, that has since been settled, alleged that a North Dakota Applebee’s manager would expose himself to employees, and forced one to perform oral sex for a raise, according to court documents obtained by Vox. The restaurant eventually settled with the 17 accusers for $1 million.
Applebee's and IHOP did not comment on any of the allegations following Vox's report, but the brands' parent company, DineEquity, has released a statement condemning acts of harassment.
"Harassment of all nature has no place in any organization, including those affiliated with DineEquity. Our organization, brands, Applebee’s Grill + Bar and IHOP, and each of their franchisees are fiercely committed to maintaining a safe, positive and empowering environment for all team members," DineEquity writes in a statement obtained by Fox News.
"Both brands are 100-percent franchised and all 3,700 restaurants nationwide are independently owned and operated by entrepreneurs dedicated to serving their communities. Each franchisee establishes and adheres to their own strict policies against harassment in the workplace and we expect them to follow all local and federal laws. Additionally, our brands are guided by core values. While our franchisees have a strong track records of doing the right thing, failure to adhere to those values carries consequences, up to and including the termination of their franchise license," adds the company.
In total, three of the eight lawsuits filed since 2010 have been settled, one is in arbitration, and the other four are still pending. DineEquity was not named as a defendant in the cases, as it's reportedly harder to prove the parent company was aware of the offending behaviors.
Meanwhile, sexual misconduct within the restaurant industry appears to go much deeper than just allegations against celebrity chefs or casual-dining chains: Workers in the restaurant and service industry reportedly file more sexual harassment claims against employers than any other industry, per data compiled by Buzzfeed News from the EEOC.