Chicago Restaurant Group Facing Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
The largest restaurant ownership group in the Chicago area has been sued for sexual harassment over the group’s handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against a former wine director. According to the lawsuit, a former publicist with the group was assaulted and harassed, then retaliated against when she reported the incident.
The Alleged Incident
Several news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, have covered the emerging situation, which involves the restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE). LEYE owns and operates more than 120 restaurants, most of which are in the greater Chicago area.
The initial incident reportedly took place in November 2018. The plaintiff, a publicist for the company, says that she visited the home of the group’s divisional wine director—a rising-star sommelier who was on track to become a partner with LEYE. In her lawsuit, the woman states that she was the director’s primary publicist and that the two were drinking champagne while discussing work-related projects. They had dinner together, she says, and they went back to his home where she had left her keys.
The suit alleges that the two had more wine and were sitting on the couch when the man kissed her. At first, the woman kissed back, she says, but quickly withdrew consent, told him “no,” and pushed him away. According to the complaint, he “aggressively pushed” her back onto the couch, lifted her shirt and touched her body. The woman says he pushed his hands down her jeans and sexually assaulted her before she could get away and out of the home.
While waiting for an Uber, the woman called a fellow LEYE employee and recounted the assault, she says. She says she did not initially contact the police because she realized the potential for public scrutiny, but she believed that the issue could be handled appropriately by the company. She was also concerned about how going to the police would affect her career, given LEYE’s local and national influence.
According to the complaint, the woman reported the incident to two supervisors a week later. She says that she was repeatedly told that firing the wine director would be “drastic” but that she should avoid the places where he worked. A few days later, she says that she found herself locked out of her company email, and she was placed on paid leave. Others assumed her job duties, which she alleges amounted to constructive termination.
Earlier this month, the woman filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the man and LEYE. She is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, $50,000 in punitive damages, as well as reinstatement to her job and back pay. The suit accuses the wine director of sexual assault, battery, and false imprisonment. It also accuses LEYE of vicarious liability for employing the wine director, negligent supervision, retaliation, and violating the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
Attorneys for LEYE would not comment on the substance of the case. A lawyer for the wine director, who has since left LEYE, called the allegations “absolutely untrue.”
An Illinois Workplace Discrimination Lawyer Can Help
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace or harassment perpetrated in the course of doing your job, contact a Chicago sexual harassment attorney for guidance. Call 630-665-7300 for a confidential consultation and case review at MKFM Law today.