A U.S. anti-discrimination agency has taken the unusual step of bringing federal sexual harassment and discrimination charges against a local restaurant.
In a civil action filed Sept. 23 in the Western District of New York’s Rochester Division, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accuses Green Lantern Inn Inc., doing business as Mr. Dominic’s on Main, of ignoring multiple sexual harassment complaints lodged by several female employees who have accused the restaurant’s head chef of physically assaulting them as well as repeatedly bombarding them with lewd and suggestive comments.
A decision by the agency to itself take on the role of plaintiff usually signals that it considers a case to be a serious matter or one that can serve as an example. In most discrimination cases it reviews and finds to be credible, the EEOC issues complaining parties a so-called right-to-sue letter, leaving them to privately hire a lawyer or try to pursue the case on their own without counsel.
Opened in 2014 at 99 S. Main St. in the former Green Lantern Inn, Mr. Dominic’s on Main is a second location of Mr. Dominic’s at the Lake, a popular Charlotte eatery since 1974, when Dominic Pane bought the former Cinelli’s restaurant.
Mr. Dominic’s current owner, John Tachin, acquired the Charlotte restaurant in 2012, when poor health forced Pane, who died in 2015, to sell the Charlotte eatery. Mr. Dominic’s at the Lake is not named in the EEOC complaint.
The EEOC filed the court action on behalf of Rachel Clifford, who worked as a server for Mr. Dominic’s for approximately seven months ending in March 2017, when she quit. It also cites head chef Paul Dowlatt’s alleged harassment of another server, who “resigned because she could no longer work with Dowlatt”; an unidentified female bartender who worked for Mr. Dominic’s for some three years ending in November 2017; and another unnamed female bartender who started work at Mr. Dominic’s in April 2018. It does not state an end date for the latter bartender’s employment.
According to the court complaint, Dowlatt aimed an unsought, unwanted and ongoing stream of suggestive comments at each woman, using vulgar terms and regaling them with graphic descriptions of sex acts he wanted perform with them. He is also alleged to have physically assaulted the women.
Despite the women’s complaints, which stretch back to the beginning of Dowlatt’s employment with Mr. Dominic’s, and the egregious nature of Dowlatt’s alleged behavior, the restaurant’s management took no action against the chef and did not appear to make any attempts to correct his behavior, the EEOC claims.
According to the EEOC, Dowlatt on one occasion grabbed a bartender’s breasts, buttocks and genitals, and in another instance forced his tongue down Clifford’s throat after first grabbing her from behind and licking her ear while she was trying to set a table. On other occasions, Dowlatt accosted Clifford, blocking the server’s path while grabbing his own genitals, and thrust his pelvis against Clifford, stating “I know you like it rough,” the EEOC claims.
Remarks the EEOC alleges the head chef aimed at a bartender include “you’d look good with my baby in your belly.” He also allegedly hit the same bartender with salacious questions including: “don’t you want to be my baby mama?” and “don’t you want to be under me?”
When Clifford rebuffed Dowlatt’s advances, he retaliated, taking actions that apparently went unnoticed by managers including burning food ordered by customers Clifford waited on, slow-walking orders she placed and strewing garbage in her work area, the EEOC alleges.
Despite such behavior and complaints both women lodged with Tachin, and with General Manager Anthony Barbone, they ignored the complaints, the federal agency claims.
In the court brief, the EEOC states that it counts Clifford’s resignation from the restaurant as the equivalent of being fired, stating that Mr. Dominic’s “constructively discharged Rachel Clifford by creating and maintaining an intolerable work environment.”
A second unnamed female employee “who objected to and complained about the hostile work environment” was also discharged, the EEOC’s court complaint adds.
The EEOC filed the court action following several attempts beginning in July to reach an out-of-court settlement that Mr. Dominic’s did not respond to, the agency’s court complaint states.
According to the complaint, the agency first notified Mr. Dominic’s management that it had determined the women’s complaints to be valid in a June 24 Letter of Determination, and over the next few weeks “engaged in communications with (Mr. Dominic’s management) to provide (the restaurant) the opportunity to remedy the unlawful employment practices described in the Letter of Determination.”
Neither Tachin nor Barbone could immediately be reached for comment.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.