For hostess Eftehea Leontaritis, a hosting position at Malibu hotspot restaurant Taverna Tony should have been business at usual. Unfortunately, the job turned ugly when the restaurant’s owner began harassing and assaulting Leontaritis – and it resulted in a lawsuit with an even uglier verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Not only did Tony Koursais, the restaurant’s owner, make lewd advances to Leontaritis, but he assaulted her in March 2003 when he forced her to watch him masturbate. Leontaritis fled the scene after quitting, but not before the harassment reached its seedy conclusion. The incident was the culmination of nearly nine months of inappropriate advances, intimidation and harassment, and the hostess had already voluntarily cut precious hours worked in order to avoid her boss.
Once she left her job, Leontaritis sought therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, incurring over $14,000 in medical bills. Then she went on the warpath, suing the restaurant for discrimination, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and invasion of privacy. Though Koursais denied the validity of the hostess’s claims, a jury disagreed – they awarded Leontaritis a mammoth verdict totaling $5.4 million. That figure included attorney’s fees and $2.2 million in punitive damages to punish the owner and restaurant.
What does this verdict teach victims of sexual harassment who might be considering their own lawsuit? Fighting back pays. Not only were the defendants denied a chance at a new trial and a dismissal of the lawsuit, but they were forced to take responsibility for creating an intimidating and unacceptable work environment for Leontaritis. Her victory is both a personal battle won and a telling lesson for victims of harassment everywhere. With the right legal strategy and an aggressive, resourceful attorney, harassers can be taken to task for the distress they inflict. And the lesson taught to Taverna Tony and its owner will serve as a strident warning to other companies who encourage harassing work environments.