WilmerHale and Lawyers for Civil Rights Achieve Victory for Former Restaurant Employee

WilmerHale and Lawyers for Civil Rights Achieve Victory for Former Restaurant Employee

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The press release below was originally distributed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and republished with permission.

In a case that demonstrates the continuing resonance of the #MeToo and #YoTambien movement for low-wage workers, the full Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) affirmed a judgment in favor of a former kitchen employee who was sexually harassed while working at Strega Waterfront Restaurant in Boston.  The order requires the upscale restaurant to “cease and desist from actions that create a sexually hostile work environment,” to undertake far-reaching reforms to protect workers from harassment, and to pay damages to the employee who was harassed. 

In the fall of 2013, Luvina Hernandez began working on the dessert line of Strega Waterfront Restaurant, an Italian eatery in Boston’s Seaport District. Throughout her employment, she was subjected to offensive and inappropriate sexual comments from her direct supervisor, Salvatore Firicano, including asking her if she was a virgin and if her breasts were “real or . . . had been operated on.”  Mr. Firicano also requested that Ms. Hernandez give him a massage.  “I cried when I got home from work because of the constant abuse,” said Ms. Hernandez when discussing the MCAD ruling. 

In September 2017, an MCAD hearing officer found Strega Restaurant, Mr. Firicano, and the Varano Group (Strega’s owner) liable for subjecting Ms. Hernandez to a sexually hostile work environment.  The restaurant appealed that ruling to the full Commission of the MCAD, which today affirmed the ruling.  In doing so, the MCAD found that the comments that Ms. Hernandez was subjected to were both “objectively offensive” and “personally offensive” to Ms. Hernandez, and that Mr. Firicano’s conduct “unreasonably interfered with Ms. Hernandez’s work performance.”  The MCAD also rejected the restaurant’s attempt to raise issues of immigration status to undermine Ms. Hernandez’s testimony, holding that this line of attack was “rightly prohibited” by the hearing officer and would chill victims of discrimination from coming forward.

The MCAD ordered Strega to “cease and desist” from any actions that create a sexually hostile work environment, to institute a training program for its managers, and to implement a formal sexual harassment policy. It also affirmed an award of $20,000 in damages to Ms. Hernandez and ordered payment of attorneys’ fees.

“I hope this victory will inspire other women who have been victimized. I want them to know that they have rights,” said Ms. Hernandez. 

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights noted that today’s ruling is part of the national #MeToo and #YoTambien movements that continue to play out across the country. “Low-wage workers have long been subjected to sexual harassment, but they are now speaking up. They are creating a powerful public backlash against sexual harassment. Businesses should not condone sexual harassment. Companies that try to defend this type of reprehensible conduct do so at their peril,” added Mr. Espinoza-Madrigal. 

Ms. Hernandez is represented by the Lawyers for Civil Rights and the law firm of WilmerHale on a pro bono basis.

The decision is available here.