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EEOC charges Houston-area restaurant chain with sexual harassment, retaliation

EEOC charges Houston-area restaurant chain with sexual harassment, retaliation

HOUSTON—The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charging a Houston-area restaurant operator with sexual harassment and retaliation after two workers complained about the alleged misconduct, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The EEOC said in a statement that Philip Wattel, the owner of two Berryhill Baja Grill restaurants, subjected two bartenders, Kimberly Kulig and Laura Baatz, to repeated sexual harassment from at least 2006 to 2008.

Berryhill is a franchise operation owned by Houston-based BHT Franchise Corp.

Mr. Wattel's firm, Houston-based Simbati Ltd., is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, said EEOC senior trial attorney Connie K. Wilhite. The lawsuit charges the firm with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC said Mr. Wattel's harassment included groping the two women and exposing himself to at least one of them. The EEOC said the bartenders complained about the harassment to Mr. Wattel himself, the store manager and a corporate human resources official, but the misconduct continued.

Berryhill had no sexual harassment policy during the relevant time period, the EEOC said.

The EEOC said after the two workers complained about the harassment and filed discrimination charges with the EEOC, Berryhill gave Ms. Kulig an unfavorable working schedule and refused to rehire Ms. Baatz. The EEOC said Ms. Kulig was forced to quit her job around December 2007, while Ms. Baatz was terminated around February 2008.

A Simbati spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last year, the operators of an Applebee's restaurant in Bismarck, N.D., agreed to pay $1 million in compensatory damages to 17 female former employees who allegedly experienced sexual harassment and retaliation during a six-year period at the hands of a former store general manager, according to the EEOC.