Two former employees of Denny's near BWI accuse manager, restaurant of harassment

October 28, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Denny's restaurant near Baltimore-Washington International Airport and its manager were accused in lawsuits yesterday of sexual harassment, the latest in a string of harassment and racial-discrimination allegations against restaurants in the chain.

A former waitress and a former supervisor claim that the manager of the Denny's at 1365 Mellon Road in Hanover touched them in sexual ways.

Each of the suits filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court seeks $200,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 in compensatory damages.

Claims that manager Hossain Mohebbi violated the women's federal rights will be filed within a few weeks, said their lawyer, Morton Edelstein.

"It was very bad," said Tina Ussery, 40, of Glen Burnie, a waitress and shift manager at the Denny's franchise until she quit Nov. 1, 1997.

She said Mohebbi brought her into his office and groped her.

She now is a waitress for a corporate-owned Denny's outlet.

The second plaintiff is Kim Fitzpatrick, 35, of Hanover.

Both lawsuits contend that what Mohebbi did amounted to sexual battery.

Mohebbi's attorney, Robert A. Suls, said the accusations are false, and Mohebbi is a good franchise owner who is well-liked by employees and considerate of them.

"I have every reason to believe he will be vindicated," Suls said.

Mohebbi began managing the restaurant in 1989 and bought it in September 1996, Suls said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Baltimore, which initially heard the allegations, did not substantiate the charges, both sides said.

The EEOC would not comment on the case.

Denny's franchises, which account for about half the chain's 1,600 restaurants, are independently owned and operated.

The corporate parent does not provide franchise owners with training about harassment, said Debbie Atkins, public relations manager for the Spartanburg, S.C., Advantica Restaurant Group Inc., Denny's parent.

"Denny's takes a strong stand against harassment of any kind," she said.

The company and its franchises have been hammered by civil rights claims in recent years.

A multimillion-dollar sexual harassment suit against an Edgewood Denny's by four waitresses is to go to trial in February in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

In March, nine correctional officers filed a federal lawsuit in Miami claiming they were refused service because they were in a mixed-race group. Denny's fired the manager of the restaurant.

Since 1994, Denny's has had a nationwide anti-bias policy that is being monitored by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 1994, Denny's reached a $46 million agreement with the Justice Department to settle racial-bias claims, and it agreed to institute a nationwide diversity training program for its restaurants.

That suit was filed after six black Secret Service agents guarding President Clinton were unable to get breakfast at a Denny's in Annapolis while their white colleagues were served promptly.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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