Café Habana is known for its gorgeous servers (heck, one of them was a Reason to Love New York) but today four of them have filed a lawsuit alleging that owner Sean Meenan went too far in playing them up. Aside from claiming they were illegally forced to share tips and denied overtime pay, Janiela Johnson, Xiomara Fernandez, Teliza Adams, and Monica Mateo are alleging that they were “subjected to a heavily sexually charged environment in which they were required to dress in a sexually provocative manner, asked to take pictures scantily clad, and subject to degrading sexual harassment.”
The plaintiffs allege that they were told to dress provocatively for work (or they would be sent home), and claim they were pressured to pose suggestively for the annual “Habana Girls” calendar. (Proceeds from the calendar go to Meenan’s eco charity, Habana Works; a press release for the 2009 edition shows off photos, and there’s also a “making-of” video on YouTube).
Writing about the calendars in 2007, Gothamist’s John Del Signore offered that “by today’s salacious standards, the calendar would barely merit a PG rating, and all of the waitresses volunteered and chose their own attire.” The Brooklyn Paper even got a pinup historian to opine that the genre “saw women taking control of their representation.”
But plaintiffs say they lost shifts because they declined to appear in and promote the calendar. One claims that a manager told her she had “raped” the restaurant, and that she was ultimately fired after she penned a letter complaining about the sexually charged work environment. Another plaintiff says she was encouraged to go out with Owen Wilson for “coffee” (“Don’t screw this up,” Meenan allegedly told her. “Owen’s a good customer”) and had her shifts cut when she declined to be in the calendar. Finally, Janiela Johnson, who did appear in the calendar since she didn’t want to lose hours (“Miss February (Janiela)… draws you in with her beauty while she collects harvested rainwater,” read the press release) says she was fired after she complained about tips vanishing.
Sean Meenan, whose official bio makes no secret of the photo shoots, declined to comment about the complaint, which can be read below.