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Phanco v. R.J.M. Restaurant

April 5, 2010

N. MAXINE PHANCO AND THOMAS W. PHANCO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
R.J.M. RESTAURANT, INC., D/B/A R&M RESTAURANT, RUSSELL RIDDELL AND MARY JO RIDDELL, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

In this action, plaintiffs seek damages and declaratory relief pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., along with various state law and common law claims, based on allegations that defendant Russell Riddell sexually harassed plaintiff N. Maxine Phanco while she was employed at the R & M Restaurant located in Randolph, New York. Defendants have moved pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The R & M Restaurant is co-owned by Russell Riddell and his wife, defendant Mary Jo Riddell. Plaintiff was employed there between March 2004 and December 2006. She was hired as a waitress, and in May 2006 her duties expanded to supervising other workers, opening and closing the restaurant, and making bank deposits. See Item 1, ¶¶ 6, 9-11.

Plaintiff alleges the following conduct on the part of defendant Russell Riddell:

* Throughout the duration of plaintiff's employment at the R & M Restaurant, Russell Riddell would frequently tell the plaintiff how pretty he thought she looked, how beautiful her eyes were, that he loved her, and that "[she] completed [his] world." Id. at ¶ 14. * In approximately December 2004, while plaintiff was working at the restaurant, Riddell grabbed her by the buttocks. After this episode, Riddell would frequently state that plaintiff had a "firm ass"or a "tight ass." Id. at ¶ 15.

* On another occasion around the same time, Riddell lifted up plaintiff's leg, removed her shoe and sock and began rubbing her foot. When she complained and attempted to slide her foot out of his grasp, he grabbed her foot tighter and continued to rub it. Id. at ¶ 16.

* He frequently massaged her neck and shoulders, despite her protests. Id. at ¶ 17.

* In May 2006, while plaintiff was working at the restaurant, Riddell sneaked up behind her, slid his hand underneath her shirt, and began rubbing her stomach. Plaintiff strongly objected, and told him to stop immediately. Id. at ¶ 18.

* In the summer of 2006, Riddell stated in the presence of plaintiff, other employees, and customers that the restaurant should put up a "stripper pole." He later set up a step ladder and directed plaintiff to climb on a table and dance, which she declined to do. Id. at ¶ 19.

* In August 2006, while plaintiff was working at the restaurant, Riddell came up to the plaintiff in the back storage room area, held her against the door so that no one else could enter the room, grabbed her cheek with his hand, and forcibly kissed her. Following this episode, he would frequently confront plaintiff in the back room, in the public restrooms, and in an upstairs loft/storage area and kiss her without permission. Id. at ¶ 20. He would also make frequent uninvited comments to plaintiff about what it might be like to make love to her. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.

* On December 6, 2006, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Riddell confronted plaintiff in the loft/storage area at the restaurant where she was gathering supplies. He grabbed plaintiff's arm and began kissing her on the neck and mouth. Plaintiff told him to stop, but he grabbed her around her lower back, forced his hand underneath her underwear, and began to repeatedly insert his fingers into her vagina. After a considerable struggle, plaintiff was able to escape Riddell's grasp and make her way downstairs to finish her shift at the restaurant. Id. at ¶¶ 23-27.

Plaintiff alleges that she complained about Riddell's conduct to management, namely to Russell Riddell himself, co-owner Mary Jo Riddell, and her supervisor Laurel Hale, but her complaints were ignored. She continued to work at the restaurant until December 12, 2006, when she resigned. Id. at ¶¶ 28-31.

Plaintiff claims that defendants' conduct toward her was so severe and pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment, created an abusive and hostile work environment, and caused her to be constructively discharged from her employment, in violation of Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"). She also claims that the actions of Russell Riddell, of which Mary Jo Riddell knew or should have known, have resulted in liability for the torts of battery, false imprisonment, and ...


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