Early in 2021, a group of women who worked at a bar got together and went to a lawyer. The lawyer told them to go to the attorney general’s office. Dozens of current and former employees were interviewed as part of the investigation.
One of them was Katy Guest, 33, who used to work as a bartender at Sweet & Vicious. She said she was surprised that the harassment she and others regularly faced would be important to the attorney general.
In an interview, she said, “We didn’t really know that someone with that much power would bring attention to things that happen every day in the hospitality industry.” “It’s been going on behind closed doors for so long that we’re just used to it.”
Ms. James said that both the managers and the people who went to the bar on Spring Street in NoLIta were often rude to her. Her research showed that the owner often insulted the female workers by calling them “bitches” and “cows” and making comments about their bodies and clothes. Ms. James said that he also called people who worked for him “terrorists,” “crackheads,” and “trash.”
In audio messages that Mr. Karamahmutoglu left on an employee’s WhatsApp account in 2020 and that were given to The New York Times, he said that the women who worked for him had to be pretty, slim, and active. He wanted bartenders who were “tall, blonde, beautiful, and sexy like the women who worked in the bars in Ibiza.”
“There was a lot of pressure to act a certain way, dress provocatively, and look a certain way,” said Kim Anderson, who worked at the bar and restaurant for six months in 2019 to pay off graduate school bills. She thought she wasn’t getting the best shifts because she didn’t look the way management wanted. For example, she said she was often told to put on more makeup.
The managers of the bar were almost all men. According to the settlement document, some of them made unwanted sexual advances on a regular basis. For example, one manager rubbed his genitalia against employees over and over again, and another announced the color of a worker’s underwear and said in a vulgar way that he wanted to have sex with her.
The attorney general said that the management didn’t do anything when customers threatened to stab, rape, or beat employees. She said that the owner and managers talked about workers with racial and gay slurs all the time.