Workplace sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. A lawsuit was recently filed by an employee of a restaurant owned by former Top Chef contestant, Mike Isabella, alleges she and others were subjected to workplace sexual harassment. There are also allegations that nondisclosure agreements were used to prevent employees from discussing the harassment with others.
Allegations of widespread sexual harassment
Several female employees allegedly suffered daily sexual harassment, as well as retaliation for complaining. For example, one employee reported to her manager that one chef continuously made lewd gestures and sexual comments to her. Despite the manager’s assurances that he would take action, the harasser continued his offensive behavior. After a former female server complained to management about sexual harassment by a chef, that chef promised her that he would make her life hell. According to her, he followed through with his threat, making it very difficult to continue to do her job.
Employer response has a chilling effect on reporting harassment
In response to the allegations, Mike Isabella’s publicist drafted a letter denying the allegations and claiming that the restaurant created a culture that is “productive, friendly, and based on equality and open communication.” Most importantly, this letter was signed by 10 female employees of the restaurant, including the human resource manager. As a result of the human resource manager signing the letter, purportedly supporting the restaurant and its denial of the sexual harassment allegations, made it less likely that female employees will be comfortable bringing their complaints to her.
Employees afraid to come forward for fear of being sued
When these allegations first came to light, only a few employees were willing to speak out, even under the condition of anonymity, because they were afraid of being sued by their employer under a non-disclosure agreement. According to the restaurant, the initial purpose of the nondisclosure agreements was to protect the business from leaks of information ahead of the opening of a new restaurant. However, employees say differently. The most common purpose of non-disclosure agreements is to protect against disclosure of trade secrets or other sensitive information that could be used against the company. However, many companies try their best to stretch the limits of non-disclosure agreements. In fact, some nondisclosure agreements are so broad that they essentially prevent employees from discussing almost everything related to their work.
Courts may invalidate an overreaching non-disclosure agreement
The good news for employees is that courts can, and do, invalidate non-disclosure agreements if they determine that the agreement is overly broad. This happens most often when there is sufficient evidence that the non-disclosure agreement extends beyond protecting the company’s legitimate business interests or if the agreement violates the rights of the employees. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!