San Francisco specialty coffee company Four Barrel has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former employees earlier this month. Larry Organ, a civil rights attorney representing the former employees, tells Eater SF that “the matter has been resolved,” though he is unable to discuss the terms of the settlement. But for Four Barrel, which hastily changed its name and ousted its founder in response to the lawsuit, real resolution could be a long ways away.
According to the lawsuit, which was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Four Barrel founder and former CEO Jeremy Tooker sexually harassed and assaulted at least eight former employees. He forcibly kissed and touched plaintiffs at company events, according to the lawsuit, making them play games like “kiss or slap,” in which Tooker demanded that they kiss or slap him.
At one Four Barrel party, an employee alleges that Tooker forcibly kissed her after perhaps drugging her drink. At another, an employee of a related company, Four Barrel’s bakery partner The Mill, alleges she was nearly raped by Tooker. Meanwhile, Four Barrel co-owners Tal Mor and Jodi Geren allegedly ignored employee complaints and discouraged change at their company.
The plaintiffs originally demanded a jury trial, claiming that Tooker, and by extension Four Barrel Coffee, had violated the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination, as well as the California Ralph Civil Rights Act, which prohibits violence against persons because of a protected characteristic, including sex and gender. If the case hadn’t been settled, plaintiffs could have recovered statutory damages for violations of the Unruh Act of a maximum of three times the amount of actual damages, or a minimum of $4,000 per plaintiff, plus punitive damages. For violations of the Ralph Act, plaintiffs would have been entitled to recover a civil penalty of $25,000 per plaintiff.
With a settlement reached, Four Barrel co-owners Geren and Mor will proceed with their plan to rebuild Four Barrel as a 100-percent employee-owned company called, at least temporarily, The Tide. Tooker is no longer employed at the company: He left quietly in November, later agreeing to divest his shares. In a public letter outlining a path forward for their business, the two remaining partners apologized for Tooker’s alleged misconduct and their own inaction, offering to divest their own shares of the company over time. Some industry observers and former business partners have responded to that plan with skepticism, encouraging Mor and Geren to divest more immediately.
- Four Barrel Coffee settles sexual harassment suit [SF Chronicle]