McCormick & Schmick's sued by female workers over sexual harassment

Female kitchen workers who were employed at McCormick & Schmick’s allege they were subjected to lewd comments from male supervisors and co-workers, and claim their complaints to the company were ignored, a lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by five women who worked at the chain restaurant's location in downtown Boston, highlights the abuse and harassment women in low-wage hospitality positions routinely face, said Sophia Hall, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represented the women.

"These are positions that society often overlooks," she said. "These women are particularly vulnerable, with limited English and no access to an effective reporting procedure. They suffered daily and in humiliating ways."

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Fabiana Santos, who was employed as a prep cook at the seafood restaurant, said she experienced unwanted touching from a male dishwasher.

“I remember a male employee coming up behind me while I worked, pinning me against a table and rubbing his penis against my rear,” Santos said.

"The disgusting things that happened to me made me feel dirty," she said at a news conference Tuesday in Portuguese, speaking through a translator. "And when I got home, I didn't even want my kids to touch me."

Marta Romero, a dishwasher, said a sous chef frequently groped and harassed her during work. She said she felt powerless to do anything because the sous chef was her supervisor.

"I want other women to know that whatever type of work they do or who they are, they're not powerless," she said in Spanish through an interpreter. "They are powerful and have legal rights."

A spokeswoman for Landry's Inc., the Houston-based restaurant, casino and hotel operator that owns McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants, Inc., said in a statement that the company strives to maintain a "harassment-free environment."

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Most of the women have since left the restaurant chain.

The women said they brought their complaints to the company’s human resources department, which took some disciplinary actions against male employees but denied the conduct amounted to sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

The Boston Globe reported a dishwasher was terminated and a sous chef was suspended for a week without pay.

The women then took their case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2015 ruled there was reasonable cause to believe the company discriminated against the women on the basis of their gender, according to the lawsuit.

The women were seeking unspecified damages, attorney Rachel Smith said.

Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry has made headlines this week. Earlier this week, celebrity chef Mario Batali was accused of sexual misconduct by former employees. Ken Friendman, a celebrity restaurateur, was also accused of sexual harassment by his former employees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.