Local P.F. Chang's ruled liable for sex-charged, hostile work environment

SAN DIEGO - From groping and pornography, to simulated sex acts in the kitchen, a worker told Team 10 about a sexually charged work environment at two local P.F. Chang's restaurants.

A judge recently deemed the popular restaurant chain liable for a hostile work environment, awarding a current employee and a former employee -- both female -- nearly a $1 million in damages.

"Very emotional, and it has taken a toll on me," said Maria, who asked that Team 10 not reveal her identity. "Working there made me feel dirty."

In April 2011, she started working at the P.F. Chang's restaurant in La Jolla, doing prep work in the back of the establishment.

Almost immediately, Maria said she noticed almost daily sexual harassment in the kitchen. She said she noticed male workers -- including managers -- groping and making advances towards female staff, making lewd comments and watching porn on smartphones. She also said one man shocked a co-worker when "he took her shoe, kissed and licked her foot."

On another occasion, she said a male worker made lewd comments about a female worker's 11-year-old daughter.

"To make her a sexual object; it was disgusting," said Maria.

Maria said a common sight at the restaurant was men groping and licking objects.

"They would use kitchen utensils and other vegetables products to simulate sex acts," she said.

Months into her job, she said her manager cornered her in a room.

"He blocked my way out and said, 'Come on already, give me a kiss.' He tried to kiss me and I shoved back and ran out," Maria said.

Maria said when she made complaints the manager was transferred to the P.F. Chang's in Carlsbad.

However, another woman claimed he then started harassing her.

She and Maria filed sexual harassment suits in November 2012.

An arbitrator just ruled the restaurant chain liable for a hostile work environment, awarding the women nearly $1 million in damages.

It's an atmosphere witnesses say was created by more than 30 men in the two locations.

"Witnesses have described it as a widespread culture of sexual harassment," said attorney Tyler Belong.

The women were represented by the firm Hogue & Belong.

Maria, now a server, said that environment has improved since she filed suit. She hopes her story will help others speak up.

"[It's] important that those voices be heard," said Maria.

In a statement, P.F. Chang's says they don't comment on legal matters.

Maria says almost all the men involved are still working at the restaurant chain.

Two other women also filed suit, and Team 10 learned their cases have been "mutually resolved."

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