Hillsborough Restaurant Sued By EEOC For Sexual Harassment And Retaliation

Women Fired for Objecting to Misconduct by Manager, Federal Agency Charged

CHARLOTTE , N.C. – A Hillsborough, N.C., restaurant violated federal law by subjecting a class of female employees to a sexually hostile work environment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. The EEOC’s lawsuit further charged that at least one female employee quit her job because of the sexual harassment and that the company, which operates “Vinny’s Italian Grill,” fired two other female employees in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Hillsborough Pizzeria, Inc., doing business as Vinny’s Italian Grill, created and maintained a hostile working environment for Jacqueline Sorrell and a class of similarly situated female employees based on their sex, female. According to the complaint, from at least April 2008 until at least May 2009, a male manager for Vinny’s Italian Grill subjected Sorrell and other female employees to unwelcome sexual verbal misconduct. The conduct included telling Sorrell that he wanted to “French kiss” her and repeatedly asking her about her sexual relationship with her husband. The manager would also make comments about his own sexual preferences, and frequently told explicit stories about his sexual encounters with other women.

According to the complaint, when Sorrell sought the help of her employer to stop the harassment, the managing co-owner of the company told her, “It’s no big deal.” After an additional complaint to an acting manager, Sorrell was discharged. At the same time Sorrell was discharged, the company discharged another female employee who had also complained about the sexual harassment. In addition, the complaint alleges that at least one other female employee was forced to quit her employment because of the harassment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hillsborough Pizzeria, Inc. d/b/a Vinny’s Italian Grill, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-00627) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Sorrell and a class of similarly situated female employees, as well as an injunction enjoining Vinny’s Italian Grill from engaging in similar discrimination again and requiring it to take other measures to ensure a workplace free of discrimination for future employees.

“Employers must maintain a workplace free from harassment," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. "A policy forbidding such harassment and a means by which employees can report harassment is vital to an employer’s ability to prevent and stop unlawful discrimination. An employer who ignores sexual harassment in the workplace and does not take active measures to prevent it risks legal liability.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.