Beloved Boston Deli Mamaleh’s Faces Lawsuit for Sexual Harassment, Discrimination – Eater Boston

In October of last year, Duane Gorey, a former employee of Mamaleh’s Delicatessen, a popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed a complaint with the Middlesex Superior Court alleging that members of the restaurant’s ownership and kitchen staff used a numeric system to rate female customers on their appearances. He also alleges that members of the restaurant’s ownership and kitchen staff engaged in sexual harassment, homophobia, sexism, and racism.

The complaint names R.J. Hart LLC — the restaurant group behind Mamaleh’s, Cafe du Pays, State Park, and the now-defunct Hungry Mother — and two of its owners, Alon Munzer and Tyler Sundet, as defendants. The complaint includes four counts: sexual harassment, sexual orientation discrimination, race discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Prior to the lawsuit, Gorey filed a charge of discrimination against the restaurant with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in June 2018. An attorney representing Gorey told Eater they are no longer pursuing the charge.)

The restaurant group filed a motion to dismiss three of the four counts listed in the complaint — for sexual orientation discrimination, race discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Eater attempted to contact Munzer and Sundet; neither commented for the story, though the restaurant group issued a statement, pasted in full below, denying the allegations.

Gorey worked for the restaurant group for nearly a decade. By the time Gorey left Mamaleh’s in February 2018, he had performed a variety of roles at each of the group’s restaurants: After initially serving as a bartender and a server at Hungry Mother, he moved closer to the kitchen, becoming an expediter at State Park, and then at Mamaleh’s. (An expediter functions as the connection between the kitchen and the front of the house, ensuring, among other things, that food reaches diners on time.) It was during his time in the Mamaleh’s kitchen, between July 2016 and February 2018, that he alleges the misconduct occurred.

Eater corresponded with three other former employees of the restaurant group who corroborated some of the allegations that Gorey makes in his complaint. Skylier McKenzie, who worked as a sous chef at Mamaleh’s, told Eater that she was working at Mamaleh’s when then-head chef Matt Cohen, also named in the complaint, directed sexually explicit comments at Gorey. An employee who performed a management role within the restaurant group and has a personal relationship with Gorey said that they witnessed some of the racist and sexist behavior detailed in the lawsuit. (The employee asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal by the restaurant group.)

Another former employee, who worked as a host at Mamaleh’s and also preferred to remain anonymous, said that they recall instances in which a front-of-house employee was misgendered by a member of the restaurant group’s ownership. The former employee told Eater via email that a member of ownership “used she/her pronouns instead of they/them when the employee had made it clear that they did not use she/her pronouns.” The former employee in a management role corroborated this pattern of behavior, noting that there was little effort by some members of the ownership team to call certain staff members by their preferred pronouns.

In the complaint, Gorey alleges that Munzer and Sundet, along with Cohen and a former Mamaleh’s sous chef, rated female customers on their appearances. According to Gorey and the former employee who worked in a management role, the rating system originated in the Hungry Mother kitchen. The complaint states that the rating system included the following guidelines:

99 = Very attractive woman

99J = Very attractive Jewish woman

99P = Very attractive pregnant woman

Super88 = Very attractive Asian woman

1989 = A woman who was likely attractive in 1989

99SP = SP stands for ‘secret penis,’ so this designation is for customers that the men ‘joke’ may be a male to female transgender individual

The complaint also alleges that Munzer “joked about a female employee contracting a sexually transmitted disease,” and that Munzer, Sundet, Cohen, and a former sous chef “commented on female customers’ body parts,” saying things such as “nice rack” and “nice tits.” The complaint alleges that in one incident, “Tyler Sundet violently plunged a steak knife into a tall sandwich, looked at a female subordinate, and claimed, ‘Now we’ve achieved full penetration.’” The former employee who worked in a management role told Eater that they witnessed Munzer, Sundet, and other male members of the restaurant group’s kitchen staff discussing the bodies of female employees and customers.

Gorey alleges in the complaint that during a busy shift, Cohen said to him, “I can shove my thumb up your ass if that will help you relax.” According to Gorey, Cohen directed another sexually explicit comment at him soon after the incident. Gorey told Eater that after he asked if Cohen would like to get off one of the stations in the Mamaleh’s kitchen, Cohen said “I always like to get off.” McKenzie, who was working when the alleged incident occurred, corroborated that Gorey was upset over something Cohen had said to him.

Gorey’s complaint also alleges racist behavior. One allegation in the complaint states that “Mr. Munzer has called young, African-American children going or leaving a nearby school” a racial slur that “would cause Mr. Cohen to laugh out loud.” Another allegation is that Sundet would refer to one of Mamaleh’s line cooks as “his ‘brown man,’” a claim corroborated by the former employee who worked in a management role.

At some point in the last year, Cohen and Mamaleh’s parted ways. Eater has made multiple attempts to contact Cohen through his lawyer, but he could not be reached by publication time.

As part of its defense, the restaurant group’s motion to dismiss alleges that Gorey made “threatening social media postings” that “included pictures of knives and guns.” (According to Gorey’s attorney, the gun is a plastic toy.) The posts are also referenced in an affidavit filed on November 28, by Molly Cochran, an attorney for R.J. Hart, who describes them as “alarming and disturbing.” The posts referenced in the affidavit are frequently morbid and often reference self-harm or violence; a single post seems to directly tag or mention Mamaleh’s, in which Gorey accuses the restaurant of sexual harassment and asks it to respond to the accusation.

An opposition to the motion to dismiss filed by Gorey’s attorney states that “Mr. Gorey is a social activist and artist,” who “posts his artwork on social media,” and that “the defendants’ motion is overflowing with sensational commentary and incendiary rhetoric, suggesting that the artwork that Mr. Gorey displays on social media demonstrates that Mr. Gorey is a threat to himself or others.” It admits that some of Gorey’s social media presence is “dark and brooding,” but states that “no rational person could legitimately interpret Mr. Gorey’s artwork as a threat to himself or others.”

The opposition also states that Gorey was sent to a psychiatric facility for “a 72-hour observation,” after “police told Mr. Gorey that they had received ‘anonymous’ phone calls.” Gorey’s amended complaint states that he went to the Brighton police department of his own volition, and was eventually taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in an ambulance before being transferred to Pembroke Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. The opposition goes on to state that “Mr. Gorey has a good faith basis to believe that the defendants and/or their attorney are responsible for his detention”; Gorey’s attorney has filed a motion with the Middlesex Superior Court to unredact 911 calls made to the Boston Police Department that led to Gorey’s detention. (In the restaurant’s motion, Cochran writes that there is “no evidence who made the anonymous telephone calls to the police.”)

The restaurant group denies Gorey’s allegations, and issued the following statement to Eater:

Mr. Gorey was a valued, long-time employee of Mamaleh’s, and we always treated him with dignity and respect. When he made a complaint concerning his work environment, we took swift action, conducting an investigation that resulted in the termination of the employee whose statement had offended him. Mr. Gorey made no further complaints, but chose to leave Mamaleh’s on his own, even though we agreed to his requests for a reduced work schedule and transfer to another one of our restaurants

While Mamaleh’s cannot discuss the specific allegations of Mr. Gorey’s complaint, we categorically deny that he was the victim of a discriminatory work environment. We take pride in how we treat our employees, and their well-being is one of the cornerstones of our business, which is why we have an open-door policy to encourage any employee with an issue or complaint to come forward.

As a company recognized for improving the working environment in restaurants, Mamaleh’s will continue to strive to earn the respect and trust of our employees, our guests and our community by ensuring that our work environment is free from offensive statements or conduct.

Gorey has told Eater he’s no longer working in restaurants. “I’m not working at all,” he said. “I haven’t been able to find any work I’m able to perform because of this kind of stress.”

The suit is ongoing. A court date for the motion to dismiss has been set for April 23, 2019, by the Middlesex Superior Court.


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