Upscale steakhouse chain the Palm has been accused of nurturing an atmosphere of sexual harassment at its New York City restaurants — with managers allegedly turning a blind eye to groping and retaliating against staffers who complain, according to lawsuits from former servers.
Both Bernadette Kaestner and Tracye Shearin filed complaints with the New York’s Division of Human Rights with a multitude of allegations that start in 2012, including a claim that kitchen staff routinely watch pornography on their cellphones, the Post reports. Another colleague from the Palm in Hell’s Kitchen told investigators that a male worker once showed female employees a picture of his penis. Upper management allegedly reduced Kaestner’s hours and demoted her after she complained.
Attorney Jeffrey Ruzal tells the Post that the Palm denies the allegations and has the “utmost respect for its employees.” “We are defending strongly against all of these claims which we completely dispute,” he says. The Palm did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Eater.
Keastner and Shearin, both former servers, filed their complaints in 2017 and 2018. In her complaint, Kaestner says she was met with a nonchalant response from upper management and scaled back hours when she complained about the frequent workplace porn in 2015. She was demoted to part-time and her tire was later slashed in the employee parking lot, she claims.
She also states in her complaint that in 2012, a regular customer at the East Hampton location once grabbed her from behind, placing his hand in between her thighs near her crotch. When she reported this to a manager, he allegedly refused to do anything about it and asked her not to report it to the police, according to the Post. She claims she was wrongfully fired in 2017.
Shearin also claims she was unjustly fired that same year after complaining about a slow salad station. In her complaint, she too alleges an atmosphere of sexual misconduct at the Palm; she claims a general manager routinely asked her to send free drinks to women and get their phone numbers.
Both women are being represented by Preston Leschins, who tells the Post the misconduct has become an “accepted part” of working at the Palm.
The historic chain has more than two dozen locations in the U.S. and Mexico and is known for its caricature-filled walls, of which there are three in New York. But it’s had a dramatic past.
The parent company that licenses out the Palm name recently filed for bankruptcy, though a spokesperson says none of the operating restaurants should be impacted. It comes after Garry Ganzi and Claire Breen, grandchildren of the founders, successfully sued their cousin Walter Ganzi Jr. and his partner Bruce Bozzi Sr. for locking them out of proper profits. Ganzi and Breen’s lawyers are now alleging that the recent bankruptcy filing is to avoid the damages.