Dad Sues White Dog Cafe for Sexual Harassment on Behalf of Late Daughter

The restaurant's owner Marty Grims calls the suit, which he has yet to be served with, "totally ridiculous" and says there is "absolutely no basis" for it.

White Dog in Wayne

White Dog in Wayne

The White Dog Cafe always seemed like one of the more progressive restaurants in the Philadelphia area. Its founder, Judy Wicks, built a reputation around sustainability, responsible business practices, and, according to her web site, “the importance of feminine energy in building a new more compassionate economy.” But Wicks sold the restaurant to Marty Grims in 2009. And allegations that have surfaced in a new federal lawsuit make the Wayne location of the restaurant sound more like a men’s locker room.

The lawsuit was filed last week by an Upper Darby father on behalf of his late daughter who, according to health department records, died by suicide on August 24, 2011, at the age of 21. The daughter, a West Philadelphia resident, worked at the Wayne location of the White Dog Cafe starting in 2010, and according to the lawsuit, she was subjected to unwanted advances and other forms of sexual harassment while employed there. (The names have been withheld out of respect to the family.)

According to the suit, certain male employees at the White Dog Cafe “performed acts to denigrate females generally” and “on a constant basis.” The father says that one employee pressed his genitals against his daughter’s rear and “bumped and grinded” against her. Another allegedly touched her breast and responded “I get my jollies” when she told him to stop. Still others are accused of making derogatory and unwanted remarks about her sexuality. On one occasion, White Dog owner Marty Grims allegedly made fun of her clothing.

The lawsuit claims that the daughter complained repeatedly about the harassment but that her words fell on deaf ears. In one instance, a manager allegedly told her that she was “handling it with style and grace” and blew her a kiss when she reported the harassment to him. She eventually quit her job at the restaurant, though the suit does not disclose exactly when.

Before her death in 2011, the daughter filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The whole matter seemed silly,” says Grims of those proceedings. The EEOC closed the file on the daughter’s complaint when the agency learned that she had died.

For legal analysis of the White Dog Cafe lawsuit, we turned to longtime Bala Cynwyd employment attorney Nancy Ezold. According to Ezold, the EEOC complaint is pivotal in this case, because federal precedents have held that a suit of this type may be filed on behalf of a deceased victim, but only if said victim initiated an administrative claim like an EEOC complaint prior to dying. In other words, no EEOC complaint, no lawsuit.

“What the court is really looking for here is: Did the employee speak up and complain?” explains Ezold. “And in this case, she clearly did. Still, it’s gonna be tough. It’s always tough to prove sexual harassment cases, and in this case the person who complained is now absent.”

The suit accuses the White Dog Cafe of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment, retaliation, and the negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The father is seeking unspecified damages above $150,000 on behalf of his daughter’s estate. Grims, who has yet to be served with a copy of the suit, calls it “totally ridiculous,” saying that there is “absolutely no basis” for it.

Members of the family and their attorney did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

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For confidential support if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn about the warning signs of suicide at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.