Napa's Bistro Don Giovanni kitchen workers alleges sexual harassment

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A Napa Valley restaurant has been hit with a lawsuit from a kitchen worker claiming sexual harassment and assault by a co-worker. 

 

Martha Patricia Vanegas, 36. who goes by Pati, has worked at Bistro Don Giovanni for five years, and continues to work there, assembling salads and pizzas. But she describes eight months of torment in 2016 and 2017. 

 

"It was very humiliating because he was doing these things in front of other people," said Vanegas, speaking at home in Napa, her roommate translating from Spanish to English. 

 

The lawsuit names Francisco Martinez, as the cook who allegedly targeted her, referring to her in Spanish as a "f----- lesbian." 

About a dozen incidents are alleged, including Martinez threatening to kill Vanegas, and ramming cooking tongs into her buttocks, groping her butt and grabbing her breasts.

 

Some of the offenses were witnessed by colleagues. 

 

After the worst episodes, Venegas would flee to the bathroom and cry. 

"It became very hard, emotionally, to go to work," said Vanegas, "and every night at home, just dealing with that." 

 

Vanegas documented the many occasions and she complained to managers.

 

She says nothing was done, perhaps because Martinez was cousin of the head chef.  

"Zero tolerance doesn't mean we'll eventually fire someone after multiple complaints of gross, egregious, disgusting behavior," said Vanegas' atttorney, Alexis McKenna.

 

McKenna says restaurants may set a higher standard for conduct in the dining rooms where customers can see, but be more lax in the back of the house, where it's less visible and easier to target women.  

 

"There are millions like Pati out there, unfortunately, the restaurant business is particularly rampant with this kind of behavior," said McKenna. 

 

Vanegas says even after her Martinez was fired, she was retaliated against, with her hours cut, and her shifts changed unpredictably. 

 

"Everybody found out, and some people who were friends with him were mad at me so they woud make comments," said Vanegas, "and they just let everybody get away with everything." 

 

At Bistro Don Giovanni, staff said the owner was on an extended stay in Italy, and they had not yet seen the lawsuit.

 

"It's sad news but we pull together and we're stronger than ever," said lead hostess Lindsey Guinn, "and we're like a family here, a local favorite."

 

Guinn has worked at the bistro for a decade, and says Vanegas remains a valued colleague. 

 

"We'll support her no matter what, like every woman in here is being supported," declared Guinn, "because there's no reason why this should have happened, and it  won't ever happen again".  

 

The restaurant is celebrating its 26th year of operation, a familiar landmark on Highway 29.

"Many of our employees have been here a long time and I've been here 25 years," said Manager Curtis Bradford. "It's a special place and a special place to work and these issues are dealt with quickly and fairly, when they ocur."  

 

Vanegas is hoping she can return to a sense of safety and contentment on the job, but she also urges other women to speak up.   "This is why I came forward with this, don't be scared, do something about it," said Vanegas, "because when somebody goes too far, it's just not right."

 

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.   

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