Owner of NYC bar to pay $500K over claims of harassment, ‘unwelcomed sexual advances’ from managers


ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) – The owner of a bar in New York City has agreed to pay a $500,000 settlement to 16 current and former employees after, they say, he created a hostile workplace where women and people of color were subjected to harassment and discrimination, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday.

Sweet & Vicious, a Manhattan bar owned by Hakan Karamahmutoglu, has been the subject of a 16-month investigation, according to the NY Attorney General’s Office.

At a press conference Wednesday, James said the employees were subjected to comments about their race, clothing and appearance. The owner also created an environment in which the employees were subjected to “unwelcomed sexual advances,” per a news release issued Wednesday.

“These women reported that male managers repeatedly rubbed themselves up against them, behind the bar … a male employee loudly announced the color of a female bartenders underwear and then graphically and crudely stated his intention to engage her sexually,” James said during Wednesday’s press conference.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, left, announced Wednesday that her office had reached a settlement of $500,000 for former employees a Manhattan bar that was the subject of a sexual-harassment and wage-theft investigation. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The bar had also only allowed men to take on management roles with women working as bartenders. Karamahmutoglu was also accused of calling the female employees demeaning and offensive names, such as “cows” or “b—-es,” or discriminating against the employees by race while referring to some as “gangsters” or “terrorists,” the AG’s office said.  James added that owner Karamahmutoglu used anti-gay slurs.

Amanda Rue, the founder of human resource consultancy The Shift Workshop, said allegations of sexual harassment in the hospitality industry are no surprise.

“Restaurants and hospitality have often been a hotbed for where sexual harassment is just kind of bred,” Rue said. “There’s a lot of old sexist thinking, a lot of old patterns and belief systems that they’ve been really slow to change even with the #MeToo Movement and things like that.” 

Sexual harassment is all about power, Rue added, and is most often played out in male-dominated fields. But with this investigation only taking 16 months, it’s a sign the state is heading in the right direction.

“I think what this goes to show for many business owners is that change is happening and that it’s no longer OK to really have discriminatory practices in your workplaces,” said Rue, who recommends that victims speak out as soon as possible and document any exchanges with the accused harassers. “And if … your employees don’t feel comfortable to talk to you, there are resources like the Attorney General where you can go and now we’re seeing actionable change.”

In addition to the $500,000 settlement, Sweet & Vicious must also revise its sexual-harassment and anti-discrimination training materials and submit to periodic monitoring.

“Every New Yorker should be able to go to work free from fear of abuse and degradation regardless of industry, and I pledge to continue to stand with all workers in the face of these harmful practices,” said James in Wednesday’s news release. “I am grateful to the former and current employees of Sweet and Vicious for using their voices to fight for safe, harassment-free workplaces for all.”

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