Former employees of popular coffee shop and roaster Four Barrel Coffee filed a lawsuit today alleging that company founder Jeremy Tooker sexually assaulted and harassed multiple female employees, creating a toxic work environment at his company. The Chronicle broke the news of the discrimination lawsuit, which includes allegations against Tooker from eight women; it also asserts that Tooker’s partners Jodi Geren and Tal Mor, and a dismissive human resources department, failed to take action.
Tooker founded Valencia Street’s Four Barrel in 2008 after leaving Ritual Coffee Roasters, and has since expanded with a Portola Four Barrel location and The Mill, a partnership with popular bread maker Josey Baker on Divisadero. After interviewing 14 former employees — 10 of whom went the record — The Chronicle reports that Tooker created a culture of sexism at his company that was an “open secret” in the coffee industry.
The lawsuit against Tooker focuses on incidents at two 2015 company parties. At the alcohol-fueled events, the founder allegedly forced his small group of employees to play a game called “kiss or slap,” in which he forced them to either kiss or slap him. According to the lawsuit, Tooker “forcibly grabbed” an employee of The Mill, Cobrina Grieco, and “kissed her against her will” multiple times during a company party held at a small Bolinas hotel and bar, Smiley’s Saloon.
Later in the evening, according to the lawsuit, Tooker went even further. In a hotel room rented for Four Barrel employees, he “forcefully pushed [Grieco] onto the bed and laid on top of [her],” while she repeatedly asked him to stop, she alleges in the suit, a claim supported by three employees who witnessed the incident. According to the court documents, Tooker “managed to get her pants down to her thighs” before other employees entering the room could stop him.
Two more women, Megan Kepnach and Karley Webb, also allege that Tooker forcibly kissed them at the same party. When Kepnach told her manager about the incident, she says, she was fired a week later.
The lawsuit comes amid a reckoning in the food industry and other fields in which powerful male chefs and restaurant owners like Mario Batali and, more locally, Charlie Hallowell in Oakland, are held to account for their alleged sexual misconduct. A lawsuit alleging sexual harassment was filed against restaurateur and chef Michael Chiarello in 2016, but was later settled out of court.
Eater has reached out to Four Barrel and The Mill for comment on the lawsuit. Others in the field, like Sightglass Coffee, are already publicly condemning Tooker’s alleged behavior. Read the Chronicle’s full report here.