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WASHINGTON -- A tony New York steakhouse that was the site of a legendary mafia murder in the 1980s is paying $600,000 to settle claims that a male manager sexually harassed nearly two dozen of the restaurant's male waiters, federal officials said Thursday.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Sparks Steak House failed to stop the manager's abuse of 22 waiters over a nearly eight-year period. In its lawsuit, the agency accused the manager of groping the buttocks of male waiters, making lewd sexual comments to them and attempting to touch their genitals.
"The severe sexual harassment at Sparks ran rampant for too long," said EEOC lawyer Robert Rose.
The harassment continued even after many of the waiters complained to other managers, the agency said. Some of the victims who spoke up suffered retaliation, being assigned more difficult work or even being suspended.
Steve Cetta, vice president of the midtown Manhattan restaurant, said the steakhouse has not admitted any wrongdoing and decided to settle the case to avoid further legal costs and negative publicity.
"It creates agony and frustration and we just wanted to move on," Cetta said.
The popular restaurant is known for its prime sirloin and extensive wine list. But in 1985, it was the site of an infamous mafia hit when organized-crime chief Paul Castellano and bodyguard Thomas Billotti were shot to death outside the restaurant on orders from John Gotti. The murder led Gotti to become head of the Gambino crime family.
While the overall number of sexual harassment charges at the EEOC has decreased over the past few years, the percentage filed by men has risen to about 16 percent of all charges. The agency has been filing more lawsuits involving male victims, saying it wants to send a message that such behavior is unacceptable and unlawful.
The settlement with Sparks requires the restaurant to establish a hotline for reporting discrimination, distribute an updated sexual harassment policy and conduct anti-discrimination training for employees.