A former Gramercy Tavern employee is suing the restaurant and parent company Union Square Hospitality Group over alleged gender discrimination — claiming that when they refused to wear male-specific garments such as a tie, managers threatened to end their employment.
Engels Coca, a 31-year-old former host who identifies as gender nonspecific, began working at the fine dining American restaurant Gramercy Tavern in November 2018 but felt compelled to quit after just two months, according to the lawsuit. Coca claims that management forced them to follow a male dress code — which included wearing a tie and a suit jacket — even though restaurant managers were aware that Coca didn’t conform to any single gender, the suit states.
Coca claims that when they voiced concerns about the alleged discriminatory uniform policy, those complaints fell on deaf ears, according to the lawsuit. Instead, managers allegedly threatened to fire Coca if they didn’t adhere to longstanding restaurant “tradition,” even if it violated gender-specific protections under New York City’s Human Rights Law.
Coca was further told that “not wearing a collared shirt or not buttoning up your shirt would be the same as a girl not wearing a bra and showing up her boobs,” according to the suit. And when Coca showed up to work without a tie, they were allegedly labeled “sloppy” and sent home.
Per USHG policy, the restaurant group spokesperson declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
Following the tie incident, Coca claims they became a running joke among kitchen employees and other staff members, and the restaurant became a “humiliating” and “hostile” working environment, the lawsuit states. After repeated attempts to work out a gender-neutral uniform, Coca allegedly quit in December 2018.
Coca filed a lawsuit on June 18 in the Supreme Court of New York. It claims that Gramercy Tavern’s dress code violates the city’s Human Rights Law — which protects employees from discriminatory gender-based uniform practices. In 2015, NYC unveiled new rules on gender discrimination that significantly extended protections for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
The current legal enforcement guidance on the Human Rights Law states that “employers ... may not require dress codes or uniforms, or apply grooming or appearance standards, that impose different requirements for people based on gender. The fact that the dress code differentiates based on gender is sufficient for it to be considered discriminatory, even if perceived by some as harmless.”
Coca is suing for an unspecified dollar amount in damages, including lost wages and benefits.