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Judge: Sisters entitled to money due to sexual abuse suffered at restaurant

From left, Gabrielle D'Annunzio stands with her sisters,

From left, Gabrielle D'Annunzio stands with her sisters, Ashley and Lauren, in Mineola as they discuss the lawsuit they have filed against Ayhan's Fish Kebab in Port Washington on July 13, 2011. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Three sisters from Port Washington are entitled to monetary damages for "the appalling sexual abuse they were forced to endure" at the local restaurant where they worked, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz said in a ruling Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that there was no need for a trial because the facts so clearly supported the plaintiffs. He said he was referring the case directly to a magistrate, who will assess damages against Ayhan's Fish Kebab Restaurant in Port Washington and one of its managers, Dario Gomez.

The judge dismissed the portion of the lawsuit against restaurant owner Ayhan Hassan, saying there was no evidence he was aware of the harassment.

The lawsuit brought by Ashley, Gabrielle and Lauren D'Annunzio, who are now in their mid- to late 20s, said the abuse occurred while they worked at the restaurant as hostesses from 2005 to 2008. "While this pervasive abuse was occurring, Ayhan's Fish Kebab Restaurant took no meaningful corrective action," the judge ruled.

The judge said testimony showed there were numerous incidents of harassment that included male employees making lewd remarks to the women and touching their arms, legs and buttocks.

In the most flagrant case of abuse, one of the sisters was grabbed in a bear hug in July 2008 by a cook who groped her, the ruling said. The cook, Juan Pablo Orellano, halted the attack when a busboy came down to the basement. Orellano was convicted in October 2008 of felony attempted sexual abuse, served 4 months in jail and was deported, prosecutors said.

Restaurant managers testified at a preliminary hearing that the plaintiffs did not prove the conduct was severe or pervasive, the judge's ruling said. "This argument is indefensible," the judge ruled. "The record is replete with specific facts alleging that [the women] endured prevalent abuse and harassment at the workplace . . ."

An attorney for the restaurant, Bruce Migatz of Garden City, said there were disputed facts in the case that the judge should have let a jury decide. Migatz said he had not decided whether to appeal.

The women are represented by Sara Wyn Kane of Garden City. "We believe the judge made the right decision and we support it wholeheartedly. This has been long and difficult for our clients. We are pleased to be able to submit the damages issue to the magistrate," Kane said.

An earlier version of this story misstated which parties would be liable for damages.

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