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EEOC sues East Meadow diner over sexual harassment allegations

The Colony Diner in East Meadow on April

The Colony Diner in East Meadow on April 30, 2013.     Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

An East Meadow diner has been named in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that owners and some employees at the diner sexually harassed and discriminated against female staffers.

Colony Diner, known in business filings as Stardust Diners LLC, was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed in the federal court in Central Islip in early June. The lawsuit comes after an investigation by the labor rights agency.

Following the EEOC’s determination finding "reasonable cause" to believe that Colony Diner used unlawful employment practices, the agency said in court filings that "informal methods of conciliation" did not result in an "agreement acceptable to the Commission," according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC alleges that the owners and operators of the diner, cousins George and Thomas Strifas, engaged in "unlawful employment practices," saying ownership subjected women working at the diner to a "hostile work environment based on sex."

Jamie S. Felsen, attorney for the diner, denies the allegations.

"We are aware of the allegations contained in the lawsuit against Colony Diner," Felsen said in a statement responding to Newsday. "They are merely allegations which Colony Diner denies, and which will be vigorously defended in court."

The "aggrieved individuals" in the lawsuit are women who were or continue to be employed by the diner as servers or hostesses between May 2015 and now.

In a statement released June 3 following the suit’s filing, Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, said a hostile work environment created by "owners or high-level managers can be especially devastating to harassment victims."

"Under federal employment discrimination law, when the owner, CEO or president of a company is proven to have created the hostile work environment, the company will almost always be liable," Burstein said.

Behavior attributed to George Strifas in the lawsuit includes allegations of nonconsensual physical touching, asking female staffers personal questions about their sex lives, "regularly demeaning women by yelling at them," and stating that men were "more reliable" as employees than women.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that both co-owners made "daily remarks" that were derogatory in nature about the appearance of female employees and failed to "take prompt and effective action to stop" pervasive acts of sexual harassment on the part of male employees.

Lawyers for the EEOC said a number of women who worked at the diner resigned as a result of the hostile work environment, and that when female employees objected to the alleged harassment, ownership retaliated by assigning aggrieved employees to sections of the diner that garnered fewer tips.

The recent suit isn’t the only time the local eatery has found itself in hot water over labor issues.

In 2013, co-owners George and Thomas Strifas pleaded guilty to underpaying 72 workers and falsifying records after a joint investigation involving the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and federal and state labor departments.

The case was the first joint investigation of its kind under the state's Wage Theft Prevention Act, which went into effect in April 2011.

The owners agreed to pay more than $500,000 as part of the plea, including $337,780 in back wages to settle minimum wage and overtime violations, $163,742 in damages to the employees, and $48,681 in state insurance payments.

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