Make us your home page
Instagram

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 llogan@sptimes.com.

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

Loading...
  1. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]
  2. Is Ed Sheeran sexy? An investigation

    Music & Concerts

    Start with the guitar. Guitars are sexy, right? Historically, anytime anyone straps on a guitar, it's only a matter of time before they come running.

    Ed Sheeran, who sold out three shows at Madison Square Garden last year, opened for Taylor Swift’s “Red” tour and now has a new album called “x” (as in multiply), at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, June 14, 2014.  ?  I don?  t look like your typical pop star,?   says the pint-size 23-year-old British folk singer with a mop of red hair and an unassuming mien. ?  I don?  t sing songs like your typical pop star.” (Jesse Dittmar/The New York Times) -- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE JUNE 22, 2014.
  3. Dates and itinerary for Tampa City Council trip to Cuba finalized

    Local

    TAMPA — The dates are set and the itinerary is largely finalized for the Tampa City Council's first official trip to Cuba since the Cuban Revolution.

    Tampa City Council Chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin will be a part of the city council delegation to Cuba this October. [Credit: City of Tampa]
  4. Survey: Few consumers shop for lower prices on health care

    Health

    Despite having more financial "skin in the game" than ever, many consumers don't make any attempt to compare prices for health care services, a newly released study found.

    Photo illustration. [istockphoto.com]
  5. And the most-searched NFL player in Florida is ...

    Bucs

    The Bucs just faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in preseason, and open their 2017 season at the Miami Dolphins. So with the state's NFL competition ahead of and just behind the Bucs, who do you think is the NFL player most searched on Google by Floridians?

    Fans react with excitement moments after the Bucs announce their first-round pick at the team's 2016 NFL draft party. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]