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Fancy French Bistro's Sex Harassment of Dishwasher Nearly Killed Her: Suit

By Maya Rajamani | October 27, 2017 9:23am
 Le Bilboquet, at 20 E. 60th St., between Park and Madison avenues.
Le Bilboquet, at 20 E. 60th St., between Park and Madison avenues.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

UPPER EAST SIDE — A dishwasher at an upscale French restaurant was repeatedly groped and peppered with lewd comments by coworkers to the point she felt like she was having a heart attack — with management joking or refusing to take action each time she complained, a new lawsuit charges.

Carmen Fontanez started working at Le Bilboquet, at 20 E. 60th St. between Park and Madison avenues, in the summer of 2010, taking a job as a dishwasher for “financial reasons” despite the fact that she was trained as a cook, according to a lawsuit she filed in Manhattan Supreme Court this week. 

During her time at the restaurant — which has been touted as a hot spot for the city's "modern day aristocrat, socialite or power player" —  Fontanez found herself “subjected to continuous sexual advances, unwelcome touches to her body and lewd remarks by [the eatery’s] male employees," the suit claims. 

Those advances were "regularly witnessed but purposefully ignored" by higher-ups, including the chef, manager and owner Phillippe Delgrange, according to the suit. 

In the fall of 2013, a male employee at the restaurant started making “unrelenting sexual advances” toward Fontanez, asking her on dates and repeatedly grabbing her butt in front of managers and supervisors, the suit says.

Fontanez told the employee to stop each time, but he said he “he could touch whatever he wanted” because “‘nobody would believe [her] or care, if she reported him,” the suit notes.

When the dishwasher told a manager and the chef what was happening, the manager “called Fontanez a ‘b---h’ and told her ‘[he had] better things to do’ than listen to her ‘whine’ about her coworkers.” The chef, meanwhile, told her to get back to work, according to the suit.

After Fontanez reported the employee, the restaurant’s managers joked about the sexual harassment, at which point she started receiving even more degrading comments and negative treatment, the suit says.

Coworkers started referring to her as “b---h” instead of using her name and “mock[ed] her for having to clean the entire restaurant” — a task she was assigned that wasn't part of her job, the suit claims.

At one point, Fontanez ran outside the restaurant “to escape from her coworkers’ continued mockery of her” and started to cry until the restaurant’s sous chef and manager came outside to talk to her, the suit says. Fontanez told the sous chef and the manager what was happening, but they told her to “calm down” and “go back inside,” according to the suit.

Later on, in July 2015, a male line cook started to insult Fontanez “without provocation,” calling her “an ‘old lady’ who ‘looked like a man,’” the lawsuit says.

Fontanez reported the line cook to the chef, who “screamed at [her] to ‘shut up!’” and subsequently “mocked and harassed [Fontanez] himself,” leading other employees to join in, according to the suit.

The dishwasher “felt so victimized and helpless that she began to experience shocking pain and a tightening feeling in her chest” and told her manager she thought she was having a heart attack, the suit says. The manager simply told her to “take some aspirin and get back to work."

Fontanez eventually took a cab to Lenox Hill Hospital, where doctors told her she had “dangerously high levels of stress” that had led to heart attack-like symptoms.

After she was released, the restaurant refused to let her stay home for the weeklong recovery period her doctor suggested she take, asking her to return in three days or be fired, the suit says.

Fontanez asked if she could transfer to a prep cook position, as her doctor told her to avoid heavy lifting, but the chef rejected her request and subsequently hired several new male prep cooks, according to the suit.

During this time, the employee who’d been harassing Fontanez continued to grab her buttocks “whenever he passed her” while making sexually explicit remarks, the suit says.

When yet another coworker started sexually harassing her in May 2016, Fontanez told one of the restaurant’s chefs, who asked her to “try to get along” with the employee. In response, she went to the restaurant’s owner, Delgrange, and told him she was being “bullied, sexually harassed, discriminated against and insulted on a daily basis,” the suit says.

The owner, however, “refused to offer [Fontanez] and sufficient form of help,” according to the suit

A month later, in June 2016, Fontanez woke up feeling once again like she might have a heart attack, so she called the restaurant, despite feeling “stressed and fearful” about calling out sick, the lawsuit says.

Her call was answered by the employee who’d started harassing her in 2013, and when Fontanez told him she couldn’t work that day, he “called [her] a ‘liar’ and a ‘b---h’” and hung up the phone, the suit claims.

At that point, Fontanez decided she couldn’t return to work and was fired, according to the suit.

“[Fontanez’s] experiences at Le Bilboquet have emotionally scarred her and she has continued to experience horrible emotional distress,” the suit says, adding that the former dishwasher now suffers “severe migraine headaches and insomnia.”

The original Le Bilboquet on East 63rd Street, which closed in 2013 after losing its lease, was “a staple for the chic and the Euro,” attracting socialite and celebrity patrons. 

It’s earned plenty of buzz since it reopened at its current location, with reviews making note of its "crème de la crème" clientele and deeming it “the snobbiest restaurant in New York.” 

Billionaire businessman Ronald Perelman, real estate mogul Steve Witkoff and musician Eric Clapton were among its backers when it relaunched. 

Fontanez' attorneys on Thursday didn’t immediately respond to request for comment on the lawsuit. 

A manager working at the Le Bilboquet declined to comment.