NYC bar owner settles harassment complaint for $500,000

The owner of a Manhattan bar will pay $500,000 to more than a dozen current and former employees who were subjected to sexual harassment, discrimination and wage theft, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday.

Employees of the bar, called Sweet & Viscious, endured inappropriate comments about their race, sexuality and bodies and suffered unwelcome sexual advances from managers and customers, James said in announcing the settlement with the bar and its owner, Hakan Karamahmutoglu.

James announced the settlement at a news conference where she played voice memos she said were from Karamahmutoglu, including one saying, "We need pretty girls, lean girls."

Karamahmutoglu also called Black security guards "gangsters" and called a Puerto Rican manager "a terrorist," James said.

Karamahmutoglu said in a statement that some of the claims were untrue or misleading but that he signed the settlement agreement to allow the parties to move on.

Karamahmutoglu said Sweet & Viscious, which has operated in the Nolita neighborhood since 1998, "has always strived to create a welcoming atmosphere for all of its employees, staff, vendors, and customers."

James said the bar owner laughed at female employees' complaints about harassment and forced them to work eight-hour shifts on their feet with no breaks. The bartenders also worked unpaid overtime and saw their tips stolen, James said.

"At every turn the owner demeaned and degraded Sweet & Vicious employees," she said.

The Sweet & Viscious announcment came one year after James announced a $600,000 settlement with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich over harassment at their restaurant empire.

"For far too long, workers in the hospitality industry have been forced to weather a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that has gone unreported," James said. "Every New Yorker should be able to go to work free from fear of abuse and degradation regardless of industry, and I pledge to continue to stand with all workers in the face of these harmful practices."