Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In lawsuit, cook claims sexual antics in Brandon restaurant's kitchen

TAMPA — A former cook at a Cheesecake Factory in Brandon sued his ex-employer Tuesday, arguing several co-workers sexually harassed him for nearly a year and managers allowed the behavior to continue.

Michael Knight, 41, started work at the restaurant in November 2007 and said the harassment began soon after. He argues in a federal suit that a handful of fellow line cooks engaged in obscene antics so often that "virtually the entire work day was filled with fondling, genital-grabbing or simulated sex acts."

The allegations against the 163-restaurant chain are underscored by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a June letter, the director of the agency's Tampa office wrote "there is reasonable cause to believe that violations of (federal employment law) have occurred." The letter said evidence showed "the sexually hostile environment was pervasive."

A phone call to the Brandon restaurant was referred to the company's headquarters near Los Angeles. Calls on Tuesday to a spokeswoman at the corporate office and the company's attorney were not returned.

When Knight told managers he was uncomfortable with the atmosphere at work, he said the behavior got worse and he was singled out for harassment. Co-workers called him over specifically to grab each other, knowing the sight would disturb him. He said he was fondled once, when a cook grabbed his nipple.

Knight said in the suit he was called a racial epithet by another cook and that later, someone put a woman's sanitary pad in a tray of meatloaf while he stepped away to help with a dinner rush.

After complaining about the work environment, he said one manager told him, "When in Rome, do as the Romans."

"It just got to the point where there's no one to turn to," Knight said in an interview.

He described a kitchen filled with immature workers and said the fondling and humping among cooks involved — all men — had become part of the culture.

The behavior stopped for about three weeks, he said, when he called a corporate hotline.

After Knight's complaint, he said a manager told him the phone call "has taken 10 years off of my life" and that if Knight had more problems, he should not call the complaint line.

Knight said his relationship with management began to deteriorate. He was written up for making a chicken wrap in eight minutes instead of seven. He was disciplined for bumping into a co-worker. He lost his job in September 2008 and later filed an EEOC complaint.

In June, the EEOC invited Knight and the company to settle the case informally. The sides also tried a separate mediation. When they could not reach an agreement at their last meeting Friday, Knight filed his lawsuit.

Knight is asking for back pay for the time he was out of work, or roughly $20,000. He is also asking for an award for the humiliation he said he suffered.

Lee Logan can be reached at

In lawsuit, cook claims sexual antics in Brandon restaurant's kitchen 12/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 6:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics


    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.