EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the identification of the charging parties and the manager involved in the lawsuit, information contained in the nine-page complaint obtained by The Coast News after initial publication.
RANCHO SANTA FE — An upscale Rancho Santa Fe country club violated federal law by failing to prevent and redress ongoing sexual harassment of female workers by the club’s general manager, according to a lawsuit filed today by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, was brought forth by Sidney Scott and other female employees of the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, according to court documents.
Scott, Megan Fogelstrom and Mary Charlebois all accused Shant Karian, a manager at the Fairbanks Country Club, of unwanted sexual advances, groping and other unwanted sexual contact. They alleged that women who acquiesced to his demands were given better hours and pay than women who refused.
Scott, according to the lawsuit, alleged that Karian subjected her to “unwanted sexual contact,” including touching, kicking, and firmly grabbing her buttocks. It also included Karian attempting to grope her, touch her breasts and kiss her. Karian also grabbed Charging Party from behind. Karian also sent Scott text messages requesting pictures of her “ass.”
According to the lawsuit, Karian began treating Scott negatively after she refused to send the pictures, including threatening to fire her over a a minor issue and scrutinizing her work more.
Fogelstrom alleges in the nine-page complaint that she was harassed by Karian and a bartender named Roman Savedra. On multiple occasions, Karian repeatedly made sexual advances, hit her buttocks, put his arm around her waist, choked her and made repeated unwanted sexual advances. Karian also made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to Fogelstrom and other female employees in her presence, asked Fogelstrom what kind of underwear she wore, told her to flash her breasts to customers and told male customers that Fogelstrom could give them “lap dances,” according to the complaint.
According to Fogelstrom, Savedra grabbed and kissed her and attempted to kiss her on other occasions.
Charlebois said that Karian told her she needed to wear a tighter blouse to work and made unwelcome comments of a sexual nature to her and other female employees. Charlebois, according to the lawsuit, felt pressured to flirt back with Karian, who did the scheduling at work. Charlebois said that her hours were cut and she received a lower rate of pay because she did not engage in a sexual relationship with Karian.
The commission said in the lawsuit that the type of behavior was so prevalent that other employees felt free to engage in sexual harassment as well.
“Every employer has an obligation to prevent sexual harassment at its workplaces,” said Anna Park, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which also has jurisdiction over San Diego County. “Maintaining an employee manual is not enough. Training and oversight for all staff members must become how employers ensure safety and compliance in this area of the law.”
According to the EEOC lawsuit, Fairbanks is liable for the male employees’ behavior in these incidents and should have taken action to protect the female employees. By not doing so, the company allowed a hostile work environment to exist, which led to some female employees resigning, according to the lawsuit.
Christopher Green, director of the EEOC’s San Diego Local Office added, “The allegations of this case are especially shocking, being that a general manager was involved. Having ultimate hiring authority does not permit leveraging that power to take from those who work for you.
According to a recent news release, the agency’s suit seeks compensatory — back pay and future wages with interest — and punitive damages for the complainants and class members as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent Fairbanks Ranch from engaging in future discrimination, harassment or retaliation.
A spokeswoman for The Bay Club, which acquired Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in 2016, said the company was aware of the allegations and would respond in a timely manner to the claims.
“TBCC (The Bay Club) is committed to a safe, harassment free work environment for everyone,” said in a written statement to the Coast News.