Nicky Blair's, an upscale West Hollywood restaurant with a star-studded clientele, has been slapped with a federal lawsuit alleging sex discrimination against female employees.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the suit Monday on behalf of three women, two of whom still work as cocktail waitresses at the restaurant frequented by such Hollywood luminaries as Sylvester Stallone and George Burns.
"After an investigation, the commission found that (the women) have been denied the opportunity to work in the main dining room area because of their sex. The result of this practice is that opportunities for tips are less for women" than men at the restaurant, said commission attorney Robert Olmos.
The suit is seeking back compensation for the women, and to prevent the restaurant from future discrimination.
Blair said he was surprised to hear the suit had been filed.
"I am in shock," said the flamboyant co-owner, who has appeared in a number of movies, including "Viva Las Vegas!" with Elvis Presley, and now plays himself on TV shows. "When I heard about it I said, what? I thought this was all settled two years ago."
Blair blamed the continuing complaint on a commission investigator he said was biased in favor of the waitresses.
The federal commission began its investigation into the allegations two years ago when Caroline Baddour, who still works in the restaurant bar, filed a complaint. After the initial investigation, the commission "determined that the charge was valid," Olmos said. Efforts by Blair and co-owner Bob Fidler to improve the situation failed, Olmos said, and the suit was filed.
Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are Kris Mooney, a former cocktail waitress, and Wylie Small, who still works at the restaurant.
Mooney said there was blatant discrimination, but that the situation appeared to have improved by the time she left.
"They were not using women as servers in the main dining room," Mooney said. "They could work in the bar area, but not in the dining room. I couldn't believe they denied (there was discrimination). But as far as I am concerned, they fixed it."
Baddour said she had no comment on the suit, and Small was unavailable for comment.
Blair, Fidler and female employees at the restaurant said women now work in the main dining area on weekends. Fidler said the main criteria for placing employees in a given position is experience.
"We are not a learning school. We are a high-gross restaurant. Girls can choose what they want to do. In this case, they said they want to be cocktail waitresses. And rarely do I make a change," Fidler said.
Both Fidler and Blair emphasized that about a third of their employees are women. Blair said he "took a big chance" when he opened the restaurant four years ago by hiring a young, female chef, but that she "didn't work out."
The restaurant has 30 days to file an answer to the suit.