LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Six former employees of the Saddle Ranch Chop House restaurant on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood are suing the eatery chain, alleging they were subjected to sexual harassment by an assistant general manager and that one plaintiff was falsely accused of threatening to poison a customer.
Reed Fraga, Tristan Campbell, Josh Canady, Zane Haney, Sean Stanton and Travis Weaver brought the lawsuit Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging sex harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment and retaliation, wrongful termination, negligent retention of an unfit employee, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A Saddle Ranch representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The suit describes the Sunset Strip Saddle Ranch restaurant as a ``destination'' spot for social media influencers and TikTok stars that also boasts a ``self-proclaimed rock meets Western style'' featuring stone campfire pits, an extensive bar area and the only mechanical bull in the Los Angeles area.
``The restaurant has a reputation for hiring attractive staff and catering to hard partying, raucous young patrons,'' according to the suit, which further states that wait times to be seated often are more than an hour.
Assistant General Manager Defendant Winston ``Kuron'' Chandler, a 12-year Saddle Ranch veteran and co-defendant in the suit, ``abused his managerial authority by sexually harassing male bartenders, hosts, servers and other employees,'' the suit states. ``He took advantage of a tight, high-traffic space behind the bar, as well as in dry storage and elsewhere, to grope, slap and fondle male employees on a daily basis.''
Chandler ``perpetrated this harassment on a string of young staff members, both straight and gay, often in the presence of other managers who did nothing to stop him,'' the suit states.
Canady was hired as a bartender in February 2021 and Chandler often rubbed up against Canady's buttocks in the narrow bar area, the suit states.
Chandler was unfazed by Canady's advice that he should be more careful about his behavior with the plaintiff and other employees or he could get in trouble, the suit states. All of the plaintiffs except Fraga resigned last May due in part to the ``harassing and abusive atmosphere,'' the suit states.
Fraga, who was hired last July, ``observed almost immediately that Saddle Ranch was poorly run, with almost no attention paid to complying with basic workplace laws regarding food hygiene and/or proper meal and rest breaks,'' the suit alleges.
About a week into his employment, Fraga was depositing his evening's earnings in a safe in a narrow hallway when Chandler grabbed the plaintiff's buttocks, the suit alleges.
Fraga was ``shocked and in disbelief,'' but he continued walking, hoping that the unwelcome contact was a ``somehow a mistake,'' the suit states.
However, Chandler continued his harassment the next week, inappropriately touching Fraga's private parts, the suit alleges. Fraga feared he would be fired if he complained about the harassment, but still felt he needed to do something, the suit states. Fraga wrote an email to management in August 2021 detailing Chandler's alleged misconduct and the plaintiff also gave management an in-person account of his experiences, the suit states.
``Saddle Ranch claimed to open an investigation and suspended Chandler while it was pending,'' the suit states.
However, Fraga was subsequently subjected to retaliation and unfair criticism of his work, the suit states. A lawyer who contacted him and said she'd been hired to conduct an independent investigation into his allegations against Chandler told the plaintiff as he was about to leave their interview.
``We heard that you threatened to poison a customer. You need to go home tonight,'' the suit states.
``Fraga was shocked at the allegation,'' according to the suit, which further states that the plaintiff told the attorney that he had ``simply recounted an anecdote about a rumor he had heard that bartenders at another West Hollywood bar would put (eye drop product) Visine in the drinks of rude customers.''
Fraga ``adamantly denied threatening to poison anyone,'' the suit states.
However Fraga was suspended for 10 days and then fired last Sept. 11 on a false claim that he had threatened to poison a customer and that his action had been witnessed by other Saddle Ranch employees, the suit states.
All six plaintiffs have suffered substantial losses in earnings and employment benefits and continue to suffer emotional distress, according to the suit.