Harassment claims hit 3 Double T diners

Chain's owners and managers at center of allegations in past decade

May 02, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

In the Double T Diner chain's 20-page menu, packed with offerings for hearty appetites, a note from the management assures patrons that the restaurants endeavor to provide "prompt, courteous service in a cheerful atmosphere and pleasant surroundings."

But for some waitresses who have served omelets, cheeseburgers and streams of coffee at three of the chain's restaurants, the promise has been empty, according to lawsuits against the restaurants' owners.

At least 14 women who worked for the chrome-covered Double T diners have complained of being groped, grabbed and otherwise sexually abused by their bosses or fellow employees. The allegations, contained in court documents filed over the past decade, are replete with details of crass propositions and crude, belittling behavior.

One man convicted of criminal sexual offenses still works as a manager in the Ellicott City Double T. Another offender is a host in the Pasadena restaurant. Both are related to the man who bought the original Double T restaurant 23 years ago, and one is the subject of a continuing federal civil discrimination lawsuit, filed in January by a former waitress.

Attorneys for Double T management deny the allegations. They say the restaurants have implemented detailed anti-harassment policies &emdash; some outlined in federal consent decrees &emdash; and employ a man they describe as an impartial ombudsman to whom employees can communicate discreetly.

That ombudsman is an attorney in the same firm as Double T's chief defense lawyer and has handled litigation for the chain and its 55-year-old chief executive, Ioannis "John" Korologos.

Despite the Double T's policies, claims of discrimination and harassment have resurfaced at one restaurant.

Stephanie L. Carr, 27, who worked at the Double T on Mountain Road in Pasadena, filed a lawsuit Jan. 28 claiming she had been "publicly subjected to intimidation, ridicule and insult on the basis of her sex," and was the target of "unwanted sexual advances" and "profane, sexually graphic and vulgar language." She reiterated those allegations in a telephone interview.

"Apparently, they just don't get it," said Kathleen Cahill, a Towson lawyer representing Carr who has also represented other Double T waitresses. "It is illegal to treat women like this, plain and simple."

The first Double T Diner was established in 1959, at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Rolling Road in Catonsville. According to the chain's website, Korologos, a former merchant sailor who moved to the United States from his native Greece in 1986, bought the business a year after his arrival, along with two brothers, Tom, now 57, and Louie, 50.

There are now eight restaurants &emdash; four of them open around the clock &emdash; and the distinctive silver structures have become fixtures of the Baltimore suburbs.

The chain's corporate structure includes a parent company linked to other companies that own individual restaurants, all with ties leading back to the Catonsville business address of Korologos, who, according to court records, owns a 25 percent stake in the Double T name. The chain's website says the three Korologos brothers "currently own and manage all eight locations with help from their family and partners."

Lawyers for the company say the ownership configuration means it is not fair to draw connections between incidents at various restaurants.

Styled after 1950s-era roadside diners, the Double T chain has inspired devotion from some of its waitresses. In July 2002, The Baltimore Sun noted the death of Veronica S. Sakalas, 75, who worked at the Ellicott City diner for 40 years and had retired only six months earlier.

But the chain has also received unflattering attention. A prominent harassment allegation arose in 2001, when 12 former waitresses filed claims against the company's diner on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh, alleging they were subjected almost daily to physical abuse and vile, threatening comments by managers and male co-workers. In 2002, the 12 women collected $300,000 in a settlement after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that it had found "widespread sexual harassment by male staff members directed at female food servers."

The harassment was so bad, the women alleged, that most of them quit. Some of the women said they had been locked in freezers and deliberately burned with hot sauce, according to court records. Male employees carved vegetables into anatomical shapes, the suit said, and the son of one of the owners slammed a waitress against a wall and put his hand up her shirt. The document added that "managers, supervisors and owners" took part in the abusive conduct.

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