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Ex-employees of Emilio's allege sexual harassment and assault in lawsuit

The alleged incident took place at Emilio's Pizzeria

The alleged incident took place at Emilio's Pizzeria in Commack in November 2019, a lawsuit says. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Commack restaurateur has been accused of using anti-gay slurs while berating a gay worker, who he then allegedly beat and threatened to kill, according to a federal lawsuit.

Two former servers allege that the attack capped off months of harassment at a Commack eatery doing business as Emilio's Pizzeria & Ristorante, according to the lawsuit filed last week. They said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender.

"What they experienced — it should not happen in a workplace," said John Luke Jr., a lawyer representing the Suffolk County residents.

Mark Stumer, an attorney for restaurateur Emilio Branchinelli and his business, said the allegations are "completely false." Branchinelli owns Emilio's and is a partner in Pasta-eria in Hicksville, Fanatico in Jericho and Passione in Carle Place, according to State Liquor Authority records.

"We'll vigorously defend the action," Stumer said. "And we’ll be vindicated in the litigation."

The alleged incident occurred when Branchinelli grew upset on Nov. 15, 2019, that server Michael Abenante was wearing black Converse sneakers, the suit said. Branchinelli allegedly told Abenante to buy Skechers footwear on his break — or find another job, the suit said.

When Abenante returned with different shoes, Branchinelli was dissatisfied and allegedly used an anti-gay slur while berating the server, the suit said.

Branchinelli allegedly followed Abenante out of the restaurant and kicked and punched him, dislodging a tooth, the suit said. The filing accuses Branchinelli of addressing his employee with profanity and an anti-gay slur, allegedly saying, "I'll murder you."

Abenante contacted the police and did not return to the pizzeria, where he was hired in September 2017, according to the suit and his attorney.

Branchinelli's attorney, Stumer, said police arrived that night, and Abenante's allegations were not substantiated.

A Suffolk County Police Department spokeswoman confirmed officers were called and made a report. Newsday has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for related police records.

Abenante and his former colleague, Sabrina Kozminsky, said Emilio's management for months did not stop staff from harassing them, the suit said.

The predominantly male kitchen staff allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments and gestures to Kozminsky when she started as a server around June 2019, the suit said. Kozminsky told a supervisor in July that a kitchen manager allegedly groped her, but the misconduct allegedly continued, the suit said.

The restaurant conducted an internal review into comments allegedly made to both former staffers and determined that they were "completely unsubstantiated," Stumer said.

Both Kozminsky and Abenante filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February, which is a prerequisite to bringing a federal court case, the suit said.

Kozminsky and Abenante are both seeking an unspecified amount of damages, the suit said.

Branchinelli is a common name in Long Island pizza circles. Branchinelli’s in Hauppauge is owned by Mario Branchinelli. The founder of Gino’s in Long Beach (est. 1962) was Gino Branchinelli, and many of the dozens of Gino’s pizzerias in Nassau and Suffolk are owned by people who share that last name. It is a different Emilio Branchinelli who owns Gino’s of Tuscany in Bethpage, Massapequa Park and North Bellmore (recently renamed Bramalo) and Trento in Farmingdale; he is also part-owner of Gino’s of Rockville Centre. With Laura Mann

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