The federal district court in Massachusetts ruled last week that a former dishwasher could take her sexual harassment claim against McCormick & Schmick’s, a nationwide restaurant chain, to trial. The dishwasher was one of five women represented by Rachel Smit and Stephen Churchill of Fair Work and Sophia Hall of Lawyers for Civil Rights, who together sued McCormick & Schmick’s for creating a hostile work environment.
McCormick & Schmick’s tried to have one of the five women’s claims thrown out because she had not been the direct target of the harassment. She had, however, observed a sous chef repeatedly make unwanted and sexual physical contact with her coworker and witnessed other sexually offensive and derogatory behavior. In an important decision for workers, the District of Massachusetts ruled that this could form the basis for a hostile work environment claim. Judge Talwani wrote:
“Accepting these statements as true for purposes of summary judgment, a hypothetical reasonable person, working alone cleaning lavatories or out of the public view in the downstairs dishwashing area, who witnesses numerous incidents of non-consensual sexual grabbing and touching of her female coworkers, including approaching them from behind and in small areas, and rude sexual behavior from her supervisor, may find the conduct sufficiently severe and pervasive to reasonably fear that such sexual conduct would be directed at her and that this sexual conduct would thus interfere with her work performance.”