Fighting for Women's Equality

Client Story: Liliana, a Restaurant Worker

November 14, 2014 | by

Liliana* began working as a hostess in Miami-area restaurants about three years ago. Like many immigrant women, Liliana came to the United States to build a better future for herself and found that working as a restaurant hostess was one of the few jobs available to her. Unfortunately, she has had to learn the hard way that sexual harassment is rampant in the restaurant industry.

Her first job, as a hostess at an Argentinian restaurant, began without incident but quickly spiraled downhill. Her manager began to call her a “slut” and “crazy woman” in front of her coworkers. Emboldened by the manager’s daily harassment of Liliana, a male coworker of hers began to join in. Her coworker’s verbal insults turned into physical harassment and Liliana couldn’t walk by him without him trying, and sometimes succeeding, to touch her breasts or behind.  One day, he even physically assaulted her with a kitchen tool. Because her manager participated in this harassment, her only recourse was to go to the owner. Unfortunately for Liliana, like for so many other women in her position, the owner was friends with the manager and he did nothing.  Liliana was forced to quit out of fear for her safety.

Liliana’s second restaurant job didn’t turn out any better than the first. As a hostess, she was told that she had to wear sexy clothing or she would get into trouble. Then, her manager propositioned her for sex. She refused and they soon fired her.

After this traumatic experience, Liliana again finds herself working as a hostess at another Miami restaurant. Although she has not been physically assaulted or directly propositioned for sex, as she was at her two previous jobs, her coworker insists on calling her a “slut” in front of customers and has even told them that she is a “prostitute.” How has her manager responded to her complaints about her coworker’s harassment? Deal with it or leave.

As is all too common for immigrant workers in the restaurant industry, Liliana is not only a victim of sexual harassment. She’s also a victim of wage theft; on a regular basis her former employer paid her less than the amount he owed her based on the hours she had worked. Although Liliana has a work visa, this has not stopped her employers from threatening that they can somehow get her deported from the U.S. if she complains about the harassment. As Liliana knows from her own observations of her female coworkers’ experiences at these restaurants, she is one of thousands of women who every day work in fear of the verbal or physical sexual harassment they will have to “deal with” that day.

Equal Rights Advocates is partnering with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization seeking to improve the working conditions of restaurant workers, in the Access to Gender Justice Project. By directly connecting with restaurant workers across the country, ERA and ROC seek to

  • Educate restaurant workers on their workplace rights
  • Enforce laws that prohibit sexual harassment, unequal pay, and pregnancy discrimination
  • Give workers the tools they need to advocate for themselves in their workplaces

To learn more about the project, or to learn more about restaurant workers’ right to work free of harassment, visit: https://www.equalrights.org/get-legal-help-restaurant-workers

 

*Not her real name.

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