NYC bar to pay $500K over sexual harassment, discrimination claims

(NEW YORK) — A Manhattan bar agreed Wednesday to pay $500,000 to current and former employees who said managers called them “cows,” remarked on their underwear and used racial slurs to refer to colleagues of certain origin, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office.

The bar, Sweet and Vicious in the Nolita neighborhood, maintained what the attorney general’s office called “a hostile and discriminatory workplace” that subjected employees to sex discrimination, sexual and gender-based harassment and race and national origin discrimination.

The bar’s owner, Hakan Karamahmutoglu, was accused of making inappropriate comments regarding employees’ race, sexuality, bodies and appearances. Employees suffered unwelcomed sexual advances from managers and customers, according to the attorney general’s office.

“This settlement is a reminder that no matter the perpetrator, we will not tolerate sexual harassment, discrimination, or wage theft of any form in the workplace,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “For far too long, workers in the hospitality industry have been forced to weather a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that has gone unreported.”

The agreement is the culmination of a 16-month investigation into allegations against Karamahmutoglu and Sweet and Vicious. Documents, records and interviews with current and former employees revealed a pervasive culture of discrimination and repeated pattern of harassment, the attorney general’s office said.

According to investigators, Karamahmutoglu routinely insulted female employees, calling them “b——” and “cows” and scrutinized their appearance, commenting on their bodies and clothing. Multiple female employees were sexually harassed by male managers who made unwanted sexual advances, including an instance of an employee announcing the color of a female bartender’s underwear and saying he wanted to engage her in a sexual manner as well as a manager repeatedly finding opportunities to rub himself up against a female employee.

Several female bartenders said they experienced frequent harassment by violent customers who would threaten to stab, rape and beat them.

“I wish I could say this was the first time I was harassed by my employer in the service industry, or even the first time I’ve received a settlement for nonpayment of wages. This case is emblematic of intersecting national problems: the subjugation of workers, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace,” said Veronica Leventhal, a former Sweet and Vicious employee. “Sweet and Vicious is not an anomaly — it is a prime example of how men with unchecked power take advantage of their employees.”

Karamahmutoglu allegedly called Black employees “gangsters” and referred to a Puerto Rican manager as a “terrorist” and “Puerto Rican trash.” The owner and managers also frequently used anti-gay slurs.

In addition to paying $500,000 to the workers, the agreement requires the revision of anti-discrimination and harassment training materials and the display and distribution of notices regarding anti-discrimination and harassment rights and responsibilities. Sweet and Vicious will also be subject to periodic monitoring and oversight, including the submission of reports to the attorney general’s office to certify compliance.

“The time that I spent working at Sweet and Vicious has reinforced traumas that I will undoubtedly spend years trying to overcome in therapy. It was, without a doubt, the most abusive company that I have ever had the misfortune of working for,” said a former Sweet and Vicious employee identified only as former employee No. 2. “The racial, sexual and gendered humiliation and degradation that myself and my coworkers silently endured is more than anyone should ever have to experience while trying to earn a livable wage.”

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