Lawsuit against Steakhouse Highlights the Realities of Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace

posted by Stuart Torch | October 27, 2016 in Employment Law

Locigno worked as a bartender and server for Zach’s Steakhouse, a restaurant owned by the Zacharias family which consisted of Paul Sr., Vivian, and Paul Jr. Throughout Locigno’s employment, she alleged that Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. sexually harassed her daily: Paul Sr. often asked and made Locigno feel obligated to give him a “hello kiss,” made comments about her appearance, offered to buy her lingerie, touched, grabbed, or swatted her buttocks and breasts, and both Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. made sexual comments to her. Locigno recorded one encounter with Paul Sr., where she told Paul Sr. that she was not comfortable with him touching her. Paul Sr. replied that he touched Locigno because it made her “feel f***ed up and nervous.” Locigno complained to Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., but they did not take corrective action. Likewise, when Locigno complained to Vivian, she told Locigno to get another job if she was not happy at Zach’s Steakhouse.

Other staff members had stories nearly identical to those of Locigno. Three other female employees recounted experiences where Paul Sr. touched them inappropriately, used foul language, kissed them, and had witnessed Paul Sr. kissing and touching other female staff, including Locigno. These other women also felt obligated to kiss Paul Sr. when he asked them to do so. Paul Sr. admitted that he offered to buy female staff clothing, lingerie, and jewelry and on one occasion, offered to buy Locigno a bra because “she needed a little sprucing up.” Paul Sr., however, denied ever touching Locigno inappropriately. Vivian admitted telling Locigno to find a new job if she was not happy, and testified that Paul Sr. probably touched Locigno on multiple occasions.

Locigno sued the Zacharias family for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, negligent retention, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict for Locigno, awarding her $3,400 in lost wages, $25,000 for pain and suffering on the sexual harassment claim against each of the Zachariases, and $50,000 in punitive damages against Paul Sr. plus attorney fees ($99,370). The Zacharias family moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict as it related to Vivian and Paul Jr., but not Paul Sr. The trial court found for Locigno. On appeal, the Zacharias family argued for a new trial based on misconduct of the prevailing party, challenged the award of punitive damages, and claimed that ex parte communication between the trial judge and the jury constituted reversible error. The 8th District found that the jury’s verdict was supported by the weight of the evidence and that there was no behavior by the prevailing party that rose to the level of misconduct. On the issue of punitive damages, the court found no plain error because the trial court properly instructed the jury on the standard for punitive damages.

This is general legal information and is not offered as specific legal advice.  Do not rely on this information to make decisions about your rights.  If you have questions about a potential sexual harassment claim in the workplace, contact Employment Law Partners, LLC to learn more about what we can do to help.

Locigno v. 425 Bagley, Inc., 2016-Ohio-5924 (8th Dist.)

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