San Diego Restaurant Chain Sued For Sexual Harassment

May 18, 2023

A San Diego-based restaurant chain has been sued with claims alleging teenage female workers were sexually harassed by a male supervisor and retaliated against if they spoke up. 

A lawsuit filed on May 17 in the United States District Court Southern District of California by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Swami's Cafe alleges that women staffers, some underage, were sexually harassed and suffered retaliation if they complained. The lawsuit includes details on incidents dating back to 2019 at nine different location, including sister concept Honey's Bistro in Encinitas. The most damning accusations in the Swami's lawsuit were against John Nolan, a 58-year-old manager at an Encinitas location, who is accused of a multitude of inappropriate actions against the restaurant's young female employees.

"Since at least 2019, Defendants have had a pattern of hiring teenage girls as young as 16 years old based on their appearance and vulnerability, using manipulative tactics to subject them to a highly sexualized work environment in which Swami’s male manager, John Nolan, would sexually harass them daily," reads the Complaint. "Manager Nolan created a hostile work environment by, among other things, inappropriately touching and making sexual comments to young female employees, as well as by attempting to have sexual relationships with young female employees. As a supervisor, he subjected the same employees he harassed to tangible employment actions by, among other things, demonstrating favoritism in the terms and conditions of employment towards employees who were forced to comply with his advances and retaliating against those who refused."

The lawsuit alleges that Manager Nolan would show favoritism to female employees "who were coerced to put up with Manager Nolan’s advances," even buying them expensive gifts. Those that refused to tolerate his actions were allegedly taken off schedule or fired. It is even purported that Swami’s owner, Jaime Osuna, was present when Manager Nolan referred to a 17-year-old hire as a "tall beautiful Venezuelan" and rather than addressing the inappropriateness of the comment, Osuna is claimed to have "leered at her" and stared "her up and down."

Other incidents detailed in the lawsuit include claims of sexual harassment from coworkers and cooks at other Swami's locations and from a dishwasher at Honey's Bistro, who the complaint states would grab waitresses from behind. The EEOC is seeking punitive damage for their complainants and an injunction to prevent future harassment.

Owner Jaime Osuna opened his first Swami's Cafe location on Highway 101 in Encinitas in 2005, offering a breakfast and lunch menu centered around healthier options. Osuna has since opened and closed several additional Swami's outposts in San Diego County, including operating branches still in business in Carlsbad, Vista, Escondido, Del Sur, La Mesa, North Park, Oceanside, Solana Beach, Point Loma and two in Encinitas - plus Honey's Bistro & Bakery in Encinitas.

The full complaint is included below.