A sexual-harassment lawsuit filed today by a former waitress for Megu, the Tribeca outpost of the high-end Japanese restaurant empire, is hot enough to melt the place’s trademark Buddha ice sculpture. The ex-waitress, Satomi Southward, a 31-year-old single mother described by her lawyer as "demure, pretty, with long hair," is seeking $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the restaurant (which earned two stars from the Times) and its parent company, Food Scope America. Her complaint lists a variety of unappetizing behaviors, some of which involved the kitchen utensils, one of which led to felony sexual-abuse charges being filed, and all of which were, she alleges, tolerated by the owners of the restaurant, whom she accuses of having a yen for keeping more than the sushi fresh around there. Food Scope president Hiro Nishida did not immediately return calls for comment, and efforts to reach the company’s lawyers were unsuccessful.
Among the ex-waitress’ claims:
• That Megu head chef, Mitsuo Endo, humiliated her in front of kitchen staff last year by "continually touching Southward’s breasts, buttocks thighs and hips with his own hands or with various kitchen utensils."
• That a former line chef, Herman Lawrence, made lewd comments, spotting Southward one day last winter eating a banana and saying: "Oh, look at you, you look like you’re sucking dick" and "That’s how you suck a dick."
• That during the restaurant’s "free-for-all" holiday bash at the Tribeca Grand Hotel last winter, Southward believes, Lawrence "placed a substance in the drink that would substantially compromise and weaken her mental and physical faculties." According to Southward, while other Megu staff and a handful of "hostesses" (non-employees of the restaurant "hired to dress provocatively and socialize" at the event) partied through the night, breaking glasses and urinating on the floor of the posh hotel, Lawrence dragged her into his friend’s car, where she passed out.
"…when Southward regained her faculties, Lawrence’s friends was driving the car around lower Manhattan, while Lawrence was terrorizing and sexually assaulting Southward by pulling off part of her dress, mauling her breasts and other exposed body parts, and shoving his fingers into her vagina…."
Southward went to the hospital and reported the incident to the police.
Lawrence, 35, was indicted this spring on two counts of sexual abuse, felony charges that carry a prison sentence of two to seven years. Lawrence has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges; released on $50,000 bail, he is expected back in court tomorrow.
Read the entire complaint.
Former line chef Herman Lawrence is also charged with sexually abusing another woman in addition to Satomi Southward. Lawrence has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. His lawyer, Salvatore Paszynsky, says that anything that happened between Lawrence and Southward was "completely consensual" and that witnesses saw her flirting with him.
Meanwhile, Food Scope president Hiro Nishida says he was "surprised" and "sorry" to learn that Southward had gone public with her claims because the parties were in the final stages of settlement talks. Asked specifically about the accusations, Nishida declined to comment. "This is between employees," he says.
— Geoffrey Gray