Three months after losing a $2.3-million sexual harassment lawsuit to two former waitresses, Birraporetti's restaurant at South Coast Plaza has filed for bankruptcy.
Birraporetti's Restaurant Costa Mesa LLC filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in Delaware on July 2, saying the move was in the best interests of its employees and creditors.
But an attorney for the former waitresses said Monday that the filing appears to be "an attempt to protect the assets of the owner . . . at the expense of legitimate creditors."
"It's an issue we intend to investigate fully and, hopefully, set aside," Santa Monica attorney Steven J. Rottman said.
Birraporetti's listed assets of $1.4 million and liabilities of $6.7 million. The company blamed the bankruptcy filing on the judgment, which stemmed from the women's charges that they had been grabbed, kissed and verbally abused by the restaurant's busboys and kitchen workers.
Rottman said his clients have been unsuccessful in their attempts to collect the money awarded them.
The Orange County marshal's office tried to take money from the restaurant's bank account in Costa Mesa, but all but $54 had been transferred to Texas, where there are three other Birraporetti's restaurants, Rottman said.
On another day, the marshal's office installed a "keeper" in the Costa Mesa restaurant to take money as it was collected. But Rottman said Birraporetti's responded by choosing not to charge customers for their meals.
"Rather than allow these women to recover any money, Birraporetti's decided to give away the food and drink," he said. "It reflects the arrogance and absolute determination of this company not to acknowledge its wrongdoing."
Restaurant general manager Tony Maalouf said Monday he was not working at Birraporetti's in April but has heard of no such food giveaway. Shawn Morrison, Birraporetti's president and chief operating officer, declined to comment.
At the trial earlier this year, Rebecca Barklage testified that she was fondled and leered at by co-workers soon after she began working at Birraporetti's in late 1994. The Costa Mesa resident said she complained to management to no avail.
Barklage said she quit in March 1996 after one night during which she was first locked in a refrigerator and grabbed by a co-worker, and later trapped elsewhere in the restaurant and accosted by another co-worker.
The other waitress, Malissa McCard, said she had endured unwanted attention and threats that made her fear for her life.
Rottman accused Birraporetti's management of neglecting to provide proper anti-harassment training for the entire staff.
The company's attorney has said the restaurant did nothing wrong and has a strong policy against sexual harassment in the workplace.
The jury ruled April 1 that Birraporetti's was liable for harassment and emotional distress that continued for more than a year.
Barklage, a married mother of two who said she has not worked since leaving Birraporetti's, said Monday she is frustrated at the recent turn of events.
"I knew it was going to be a struggle. I just didn't think it would come to this, the bankruptcy and all," she said. "I'm just very disappointed and disgusted."