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Former Charlie Hallowell Workers Hire Harassment Attorney to Demand His Removal

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“Employees need to feel safe”

Sylvia K./Yelp

About a dozen former employees of Charlie Hallowell have hired labor attorney Mika Hilaire to represent them, staging a press conference this morning to reinforce their demand that Hallowell, who has been accused of sexual harassment, divest from his Oakland restaurant group. At the conference, Hilaire outlined the group’s demands as a group of nine of her clients described the allegedly sexualized and unsafe workplace Hallowell fostered at his businesses, Penrose, Boot & Shoe Service, and Pizzaiolo.

“I think it was powerful,” the workers’ attorney, Mika Hilaire, told Eater SF. “Each woman touched upon how working in that toxic environment impacted their lives on an individual and a group basis.”

According to the East Bay Express, workers like Sydni Skorich declared that “employees need to feel safe and know they have someone with whom to discuss issues of abuse in their workplace.” For her, that wasn’t the case: “In Charlie’s restaurant, to survive was to avoid him.”

Another former employee, Molly Surbridge, reportedly spoke up to demand fair treatment. “We have a right to the opportunity to thrive in healthy work environments that allow us to do the work that we love with dignity,” she said.

“It’s important that there’s a face to these allegations,” Hilaire added. “In this #metoo and #timesup moment, we want to make the community at large understand that this has been around forever. Jessica [Moncada] said it best today, when she said ‘Why now? Because before, no one wanted to listen.’” Emphasizing that point, Hilaire says she’s learned of prior complaints about Hallowell’s restaurant culture that went apparently unaddressed and unpublicized.

Action wasn’t taken, it seems, until 17 employees brought their accounts to the San Francisco Chronicle in December. In response to that report, Hallowell apologized for his alleged behavior and stepped away from the day-to-day operations of his businesses.

”I can see very clearly that I have participated in and allowed an uncomfortable workplace for women,” he wrote in a statement. “For this I am deeply ashamed and so very sorry.” But Hallowell remains the majority stakeholder in his restaurant group, to the dismay of a group of Boot & Shoe Service employees, who threatened to quit if he didn’t divest — then did when he didn’t.

Hallowell’s restaurant group has hired an outside investigator, added an HR department, and updated their employee manual in response to the report. But that’s not enough, says Hilaire, whose clients demand that the restaurant group provide counseling to employees who experienced harassment, offer neutral job references for those seeking new jobs, and implement an anonymous tip line for employees to report harassment.

Above all, they want Hallowell to divest. If the group’s demands aren’t met, they may pursue legal action.


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