Less than two years after two restaurant employees in San Diego County were awarded about $1 million in a sexual harassment case against P.F. Chang's China Bistro, the company is facing a new wave of litigation brought by workers elsewhere in Southern California.
Two women who worked at P.F. Chang's restaurants in Carlsbad and La Jolla were awarded nearly $500,000 each in arbitration against the company in 2014. They claimed they were repeatedly sexually harassed.
Since then, at least four more women have filed claims, saying they were sexually harassed at restaurants in Anaheim, Chino Hills, Beverly Hills and Riverside. The women used the arbitration process required by their employment contracts, which barred them from taking action in court.
The San Diego law firm representing them, Hogue & Belong, also is representing a fifth woman who was 16 years old when she signed on with P.F. Chang's in Beverly Hills in 2012.
The law firm has so far successfully argued that she was not of legal age to give consent to the arbitration requirement, and her case is proceeding in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The restaurant is seeking to enforce the arbitration clause.
During her two years of employment, the young woman says she was harassed and sexually assaulted. She was fired in 2014.
"While we can't comment on pending litigation, we can tell you that P.F. Chang's is committed to providing a workplace free of any type of unlawful harassment or discrimination," the company said in a statement.
Tyler J. Belong, one of the women's attorneys, said the new round of claims is alarming and surprising, given the outcome of the arbitration in 2014.
"To me it suggests that P.F. Chang's hasn't done anything sufficient to clean up their act," Belong said. "I wouldn't have expected one, let alone five, women to come forward with this same type of sexual harassment claim. The facts are very similar to what we saw" in San Diego.
According to complaints filed on behalf of the five women, supervisors and co-workers subjected them to unwanted sexual attention, simulated sex with them when they were bent over or not looking, tried to kiss them and touched them inappropriately.
The young woman who worked for P.F. Chang's at age 16 claims her male co-worker once grabbed her hand and forced it down the front of his pants, according to her complaint. On another occasion, a co-worker slapped her in the face, her lawsuit alleges.
Each of the women said they reported the behavior to their managers or P.F. Chang's human resources department. The managers and human resources did nothing to correct or punish the male perpetrators, and instead slashed the women's hours or transferred them to restaurants up to three hours from their homes, their complaints allege.
Cook writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.