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12-01-08, 10:03 PM #1
Cook accused of sexually harassing male employees
Bryce Fitzpatrick was working at the Cheesecake Factory at Chandler Fashion Center when he was promoted from server to food expeditor, a step toward management. One day, while he was inside the produce walk-in to hunt down watercress, the door suddenly swung open.
"About 10-plus cooks and dishwashers shut the lights out," Fitzpatrick recalls. "A guy grabbed me from behind and made me put my butt on top of his genitals."
One cook grabbed Fitzpatrick's right leg and held it up in the air. Another held his left leg. Two other men grabbed Fitzpatrick's arms.
"A cook would stand in the middle and rub his genitals into my genitals," Fitzpatrick said.
During his tenure at the restaurant, he suffered the attacks more than 20 times, he said. In interviews with The Arizona Republic, two other former employees of the restaurant chain described being similarly grabbed and held down by co-workers while men simulated sex with them.
A fourth worker, a manager, told The Republic of seeing firsthand one of the attacks and threatening to fire the offending workers.
Now lawyers are involved.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in July against the Cheesecake Factory alleging sexual harassment, a violation of federal law.
After Cheesecake Factory answers the lawsuit in court, depositions will begin. A trial could be two to three years away, said Katherine Kruse, an EEOC attorney. Much civil litigation settles before it goes to trial, she noted.
In a statement, the Cheesecake Factory said it is inappropriate to discuss matters in litigation and, to preserve workers' privacy, the company does not discuss individual employees.
"However, we take all employee harassment claims seriously," the company said.
It said employees with concerns or complaints have several options, including calling an anonymous hotline. Fitzpatrick said he was not aware of the hotline.
The former workers say they felt humiliated and intimidated by the "assaults;" one of them, Michael Wilson, equated the experience to "dry raping."
"Bryce (Fitzpatrick) referred to it as simulating rape. I refer to it as sexual assault," said Phoenix lawyer Jonathan Dessaules, whom Fitzpatrick sought out after an October 2006 incident.
Fitzpatrick also filed a report with Chandler police in fall 2006, but no charges were pursued in part because, the detective in the case noted, the allegations could not be corroborated to "rise to the level of a criminal sexual offense."
Employees whom police interviewed described the incidents as "dogpile, initiation, joke, kitchen games, hazing, manhandling, horseplay and normal joking activity among Hispanic cooks."
Hazing of a sexual nature is not uncommon. Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist from Long Island, N.Y., and an expert in conflict and violence, describes "sexualized hazing," including sodomy, as a national phenomenon. But it's more commonly found among high school and college athletics or in fraternal organizations such as the military or law enforcement.
In one of the more recent hazing scandals, a Black firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department sued the city for discrimination and described a dinner at the firehouse in which dog food was mixed into his meal. The brouhaha led to the resignation of the fire chief in late 2006.
(A local radio station later revealed that the firefighter had participated in hazing pranks himself.)
Fitzpatrick, 23, said the practice of sexually charged hazing at the Cheesecake Factory in Chandler was widespread and that supervisors knew about the group assaults but did nothing to stop them. One manager walked in on one of the incidents but just laughed and walked out, Fitzpatrick alleges.
When he asked the manager why he did nothing, the manager reportedly replied he didn't want to become a victim himself, Fitzpatrick said.
The fear was not exaggerated, several of the four former workers say.
Wilson, 33, who worked his way up from a server at Cheesecake Factory to become the front-of-the-house manager, recalls being asked by one of the cooks to go into the walk-in cooler for some herbs.
"All of a sudden the light turned out and it startled me," Wilson said. "I turned around, and altogether there were seven or eight men."
Wilson said several men held him down, and others began pressing and rubbing their genitals against his. They were screaming obscenities in Spanish that Wilson said he couldn't understand, and they were whispering things in his ears.
"They would take turns dry raping me. I was on my back being held down," he said. "Once they were all finished taking turns on me, they threw a bunch of lettuce on me, and a bunch of herbs."
Wilson said he was scared, intimidated, humiliated and traumatized. He felt violated. He quit his job in July 2007.
Tim McIntosh, who was the executive kitchen manager at Chandler's Cheesecake Factory, blew the whistle to top management after he caught some of the workers in the act of holding down and "dry humping" Fitzpatrick.
"I said, 'You guys need to stop this, and if I ever catch you doing this, you guys will be terminated on the spot,' " McIntosh said.
When another restaurant manager alerted McIntosh later on that another hazing incident against Fitzpatrick had occurred, McIntosh said he had had enough.
"I said, 'Those guys are gone.' "
He said he called the district manager of kitchen operations, who arrived and sent the employees home.
Yet, "On Monday, (the district manager) brought them in one by one and talked to them," McIntosh said. "Why did he have to bring them back in? Bottom line, they did it."
Fitzpatrick said he got fed up and contacted Dessaules after an incident on Oct. 1, 2006, when a group of dishwashers, cooks and food preparers allegedly pinned him in a reclining chair, stuck their fingers in his mouth while calling him sexually derogatory names and left scratch marks across his neck - all of which, he said, was witnessed by the eatery's general manager, who he said did nothing but chuckled.
Fitzpatrick, who no longer works in the food industry, said he stayed and suffered at the Cheesecake Factory because he was pursuing a job in management.
"I felt it was their responsibility to protect me as an employee," he said. "I didn't feel it was my responsibility to leave a job, find another job, not get a paycheck for a couple of weeks."
Fitzpatrick said he has been in therapy for a year and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Albert Miller, 23, worked as a server at the Cheesecake Factory in Chandler from October 2004 until February 2007. He described being grabbed, held and assaulted in the way Fitzpatrick says he was.
"They were laughing and screaming obscenities in Spanish and English," said Miller, who added that people who hear about the alleged assaults jump to erroneous conclusions.
"I've been hearing comments that people think we're homosexual, but we're not. All the victims are heterosexual."
Dessaules said the cooks are heterosexual, as well.
But "this case is not about sexual orientation. ... This case is about sexual assault," he said.
12-02-08, 01:34 PM #2
Wow, there is so much about this that just makes you want to say WTF. How does a guy let it supposedly happen 20 times? This type of thing is supposedly normal among Hispanic cooks?
12-02-08, 01:41 PM #3
12-02-08, 01:49 PM #4
Only takes one whipped ass to end that type of 'fun'.
Yeah, he probably would have toted a few bruises himself, but had he loosened some teeth, dotted an eye, fed someone a stainless steel pan, or at least rattled the jaw on even one of the perpetrators, I doubt there would have been 19 more such 'attacks', let alone him having to quit his job over it.
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12-02-08, 01:51 PM #5
Thanks Term for that article I just got turned off of cheese cake forever!!!!!!!!!.........Swamp Mafia
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12-04-08, 01:51 PM #6
12-04-08, 02:35 PM #7
12-04-08, 05:13 PM #8--"D.B.A.D." --Me
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12-04-08, 05:29 PM #9
12-04-08, 09:23 PM #10
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