New York State attorney general Letitia James announced on Wednesday that a lower Manhattan bar has been ordered to pay $500,000 to 16 current and former employees as part of a settlement reached following a state investigation of sexual harassment at the establishment.
The attorney general’s investigation found that Nolita bar Sweet & Vicious and its owner Hakan Karamahmutoglu maintained a hostile and discriminatory work environment in which employees experienced sex discrimination, sexual and gender-based harassment, race, and national origin discrimination, and wage theft that violate city and state human rights laws.
“This case is emblematic of intersecting national problems: the subjugation of workers, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace,” Veronica Leventhal, a former Sweet and Vicious employee, said in a statement on the settlement announcement. “Sweet and Vicious is not an anomaly — it is a prime example of how men with unchecked power take advantage of their employees.”
In a statement to the New York Times, Karamahmutoglu said that many of the allegations included in the report were untrue or misleading. He claims to have signed the settlement agreement in order to “avoid the cost of a continued investigation, avoid future litigation and allow everyone to move on,” the Times reports.
According to the state’s report, employees of the Nolita bar were routinely subjected to comments regarding their race, sexuality, and bodies by its owner and managers. Karamahmutoglu allegedly referred to female employees as “cows” in reference to their appearances, and instructed his managers to hire “pretty girls” who were “tall,” “blond,” “beautiful,” and “sexy.” Those who did not fit this description were given worse or fewer shifts or terminated prematurely, according to the report.
On multiple occasions, a manager allegedly rubbed his body against a female employee at the bar, according to the report. Employees claim that Karamahmutoglu took insufficient action to address or prevent those and other behaviors, and in at least one instance, allegedly referred to an employee’s report of alleged misconduct as a “misunderstanding.”
Employees of the Nolita bar likewise say they were denied overtime pay, full compensation, and some tips that were left by customers using a credit card. Karamahmutoglu and Sweet & Vicious failed to provide consistent wage notices and statements to employees, as is required under New York labor laws, according to the report.
As part of the settlement, Sweet & Vicious is required to revise its anti-discrimination and harassment training materials and and display notices of anti-discrimination and harassment rights and responsibilities in the bar. The establishment will be monitored by the attorney general’s office going forward, according to the report.
The settlement follows a 16-month investigation of the decades-old Nolita bar that involved interviews with more than a dozen of its current and former employees, according to the attorney general’s office.
Update: July 13, 2022, 12:02 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from Hakan Karamahmutoglu to the New York Times.