Metro Weekly

Memphis Restaurant to Pay $60,000 to Settle Gay Harassment Suit

Amerigo Italian Restaurant agreed to pay $60,000 and revise company policies to settle a gay employee's harassment lawsuit.

Amerigo Italian Restaurant in Memphis – Photo: Facebook

A gay man who previously worked as a waiter at a Memphis restaurant will receive $60,000 in back pay and damages — and the restaurant will revise its anti-harassment policies — as part of a recent settlement.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the restaurant in 2023 on the employee’s behalf, claiming he had been subjected to a hostile work environment and forced to endure on-the-job harassment due to his sexual orientation. 

According to the lawsuit, the former employee had been working as a waiter at Amerigo Italian Restaurant for two months when another waiter started calling him homophobic slurs.

After multiple incidents, the gay man complained to his general manager, who told him he would fire the other waiter if the behavior continued.

However, contrary to the company’s policy, it did not investigate the employees’s report of a hostile environment and did not speak with anyone who may have witnessed the harassment.

From January to October 2021, the harassment persisted and ultimately began affecting other workers who were made uncomfortable by the situation.

The lawsuit claimed that, due to the manager’s lack of action, other employees began trying to avoid working shifts when the harasser was scheduled to work for fear of being targeted based on their sexual orientation, as the harasser frequently expressed disapproval of people who don’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes.

The gay waiter complained to the manager that the behavior hadn’t stopped, and asked to be moved to another shift or transferred to another one of the restaurant’s locations.

The general manager then asked the gay waiter, “Why can’t you drop this?” and “What do you want me to do?” before denying those requests. He also said he wouldn’t fire the alleged harasser.

The next day, the gay waiter was scheduled to work a shift with the accused harasser and tried to get someone else to cover his shift, but was unsuccessful.

The general manager fired him that day on the grounds of “no call, no show.”

The waiter contested the firing to company management. Three days later, the company upheld the termination.

After filing a complaint with the EEOC, the federal agency took up the case and attempted to reach a settlement between the company and the waiter.

The EEOC alleged that the restaurant’s failure to remedy the situation violated the gay waiter’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment-based discrimination based on sexual orientation, and also prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about unlawful discrimination. 

After a settlement couldn’t be reached, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, seeking relief in the form of back pay and damages, as well as an agreement that Amerigo would not fail to curb similar incidents of discrimination and harassment, and would not retaliate against employees who complained of such incidents.

The EEOC also claimed Amerigo treated the gay waiter differently from similarly-situated employees who were not gay.

The restaurant ultimately decided to settle the lawsuit.

In addition to paying the former waiter $60,000, the restaurant’s owners agreed to a two-year consent degree, under which the company must revise and distribute its anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies, post a notice in the workplace informing employees of the settlement, and provide specialized training to all supervisors, managers, and employees. 

The restaurant is also required to provide the EEOC with periodic reports regarding any future employee complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation, including a description of each employee’s allegations and the company’s response.

Amerigo and its parent companies, J.H.S. Holdings, LLC, and 4Top Hospitality Group, Inc., agreed to the terms of the settlement on April 30, although the company denies any wrongdoing.

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