New York City bar Sweet and Vicious must pay a settlement of $500,000 following a 16-month investigation into the establishment’s engagement in discrimination, sexual harassment, and wage theft. The case is part of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ attempts to create safe and equitable environments for local employees.

Employees Were Threatened, Harassed, Discriminated Against, and Stolen From

The settlement is split between 16 former Sweet and Vicious employees, whose complaints about owner Hakan Karamahmutoglu’s treatment of them exposed a culture of discrimination and harassment. Some reported incidents included insults about gender, sexuality, race, appearance, unwelcome sexual advances by managers, different employee standards for male and female workers, and unpaid overtime.

Some of the more specific findings include the following:

  • The company mainly hired males for management positions.
  • Females who performed managerial duties outside their established roles were paid less than males with the same responsibilities.
  • The code of conduct was different for male and female workers.
  • Female employees were hired and scrutinized based on their physical appearance.
  • Management did nothing to protect employees from harassment by customers.
  • The owner and managers frequently used racial and gay slurs.
  • The company violated labor laws by stealing tips, failing to pay overtime, and prohibiting employees from taking breaks.
  • Management did not provide consistent wage statements and notices to employees for more than five years.

An Attempt to End the Normalization of Abuse in the Service Industry

Although some reports indicate that Karamahmutoglu referred to the claims as misleading and fabricated, audio recordings of the owner’s verbal abuse played at a press conference confirmed the contrary. Karamahmutoglu stated he cooperated with the investigation to avoid further litigation and bring closure to all parties involved.

Sweet and Vicious, a staple in the Nolita neighborhood since 1998, is allowed to remain open. However, the business is required to do more than pay out a settlement. The agreement requires the establishment to revise and update its policies and comply with all anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. The agreement also includes establishing compliant employee training materials, which must be submitted to the New York attorney general’s office. The company will be monitored to ensure that they are complying with all applicable laws and regulations.

Several employees were interviewed during the investigation. Many reported that they had been harassed or mistreated throughout their histories as service industry employees. James is trying to end this type of treatment in the industry.

This is not the first time that James has secured settlements for mistreated workers. In 2021, her office secured $600,000 for employees of restaurants owned by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. In 2020, the Attorney General’s office completed a similar investigation of the Spotted Pig, a famed New York restaurant, awarding employees $240,000. The investigation found that human rights laws have been violated for years.

Protecting the Rights of Service Industry Employees

Risman & Risman, P.C., is dedicated to safeguarding employee rights. If you have experienced discrimination, harassment, or abuse, call us 212-233-6400 to learn more about what you can do.

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