U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Multiple Women Were Abused at Merrill, Wis., Restaurant; Some Were Fired for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
MADISON, Wis. – New Pine Ridge Restaurant in Merrill, Wis., violated federal law by allowing female employees to be sexually harassed and not acting to stop it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to John Rowe, director of EEOC’s Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the agency’s investigation revealed that one of the restaurant’s cooks, Shahi N. Selmani, created a sexually hostile work environment when he repeatedly made crude remarks to waitresses and grabbed their breasts. The EEOC charged that despite complaints from the waitresses, the restaurant’s owner, Qemal Alimi, took no action to stop Selmani’s harassment, and that some of the women were fired in retaliation for complaining about the sexually hostile work environment.
Selmani did not stop working for the restaurant until months after the Lincoln County District Attorney began an investigation which led to Selmani pleading no contest on Dec. 9, 2010, to having committed Class A misdemeanor battery against three waitresses (Case Nos. 2009CM25 and 2009CM101, Lincoln County Circuit Court). Three other misdemeanors – fourth-degree sexual assault, bail jumping and disorderly conduct – were dismissed but “read into” the record of Selmani’s conviction.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for Sherry L. Brown and a class of similarly situated female employees, in addition to an order barring future discrimination, and other relief. The suit, captioned EEOC v. Merrill Pine Ridge LLC d/b/a New Pine Ridge Restaurant (Civil Action No. 3:11-cv-00589), was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison.
On July 7, 2011, in a similar case in Forest County (Case No. 2011CM30), Selmani pled no contest to two more counts of Class A misdemeanor battery and, among other things, was ordered to “participate [in] and complete a sex offender treatment program . . . .”
“The Supreme Court has held that when an employer learns of sexual harassment, it must take immediate, appropriate, and effective action to stop it,” Rowe said. “Here the EEOC contends that the owner was aware of the harassment but took no action, and women suffered as a result.”
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson said, “Women have the same right as men to earn a living in an environment free from sexual harassment. Employers, whether large or small, who don’t protect their workers’ rights should know that the federal government will enforce our national policy against sexual abuse in the workplace.”
The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.