'Waitress date' raffle halted by county judge White Marsh restaurateur accused of sexual harassment

November 16, 1991|By Michael K. Burns Sheridan Lyons of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

A Baltimore County restaurant's plan to raffle off dates with waitresses has been blocked by court injunction after the county Human Relations Commission charged sexual harassment.

Three waitresses at the Brass Horse Restaurant in White Marsh were fired after objecting to the raffle and others have been threatened, the commission charged.

The date raffle was apparently the last straw for the servers, mostly young women, who said they had previously complained about working with striptease performers and had been forced by the owner to enter the restaurant's "Best Legs" contest.

"Everyone said they didn't like the idea, that it was a form of sexual harassment," said Angela Corinth, who was fired this week. "I don't know why [the owner] wanted to do this raffle."

Pamela Curry, who also was fired after complaining, said she told owner Jerry Thurston "that we already had enough problems with customers keeping their distance and the raffle would just make matters worse."

Printed place mats promoting the contest this month promised customers: "Win a date with your favorite server -- Drawing every Thursday."

John S. Singleton, executive director of the county commission, called the raffle "a most blatant case of sexual harassment." The agency went to court because the Brass Horse would not agree to cancel the event until the commission could rule on the charges, he said.

Circuit Court Judge John Grason Turnbull II issued the injunction Thursday after Mr. Singleton said the county commission could not hold a hearing on the case until January.

Gerald C. Ruter, a lawyer for Mr. Thurston, insisted, "No one was told they had to date a customer."

Anyway, he said, the court action was "irrelevant now because we agreed not to do it."

The first scheduled drawing was not held. The second, held Thursday, was changed to "Customer Server Appreciation Night," with a waitress and a customer picked to win separately a free dinner and drinks, he said.

"The allegations are bizarre and inaccurate. We think it is unfortunate that the Human Relations Commission would follow up the [Clarence] Thomas-[Anita] Hill hysteria with this sort of litigation," Mr. Ruter said.

Laurie Raynor, Ms. Curry and Ms. Corinth said they were not asked for their consent before the raffle was advertised and told the commission they were fired without warning after objecting.

Ms. Corinth, of White Marsh, said she told Mr. Thurston it was sexual harassment and she was terminated on her next workday. "I was never told why I was let go," she said.

They also said they were subjected to unwelcome touching and sexual innuendo from Mr. Thurston.

Ms. Raynor, of Middle River, told the agency that she "was subjected to physical and verbal sexual harassment by the owner" during the five months she worked there.

The restaurant and bar has been popular with couples and singles, offering a full schedule of entertainment promotions and special-price dinners. In recent months, employees said, the events have included female strippers, the beautiful legs contest and a bikini competition.

"There's really no reason for it, because the place is usually crowded with regulars anyway," said one waitress there. Some patrons told the waitresses to protest the raffle, she said, while some male customers teased the servers about winning a date with them.

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