Lawsuit: kitchen employee at Ridgewood Country Club claims she was sexually harassed by chef, fired in retaliation

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Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:36 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A former kitchen worker at Ridgewood Country Club in Waco claims she and other female employees were sexually harassed by a sous-chef and that she was fired in retaliation for reporting the alleged hostile working environment.

Shawania S. Smith, 44, is seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages in her suit, filed Tuesday in Waco’s 474th State District Court by her attorney, Danny C. Wash.

Wash declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday. However, the petition alleges Smith noticed an unnamed “male co-worker” frequently sexually harassing younger female servers and hostesses in March 2022.

“The co-worker would frequently make lewd and offensive sexual remarks regarding the female co-workers’ bodies and what he wanted to do to them and to me, thereby creating a sexually hostile work environment, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to perform our duties successfully,” Smith alleges in the lawsuit.

Waco attorney Dan McLemore, who represents Ridgewood Country Club, said Ridgewood “strongly disagrees” with the claims in the lawsuit and it looks forward to presenting the truth to a McLennan County jury.

“Ridgewood Country Club highly values its staff and takes complaints of harassment seriously,” McLemore said in a statement. “The allegations this employee made before, which were significantly different than what she now claims in the lawsuit, were immediately and fully investigated when made and found to be inaccurate. Further, this employee did not claim at the time she made her complaints that she was the victim of any sexual harassment while she was employed at Ridgewood.”

McLemore said Smith was not fired because she made the complaints. However, he declined to specify why she was fired in June 2022.

Smith alleges she saw the man touching a young female co-worker in what the lawsuit describes as in a “sexually suggestive manner” and heard him ask about her sexual experience. The same day, Smith saw him “physically grab” another woman under her apron and tell “this female co-worker that she needed to have sex with him,” the lawsuit claims.

Smith reported the sexual harassment of her co-worker to her supervisor and to the country club’s human resources department “in good faith that illegal and unwanted sexual harassment was occurring on the job,” according to the lawsuit.

In March or April 2022, the sous-chef Smith had reported told her “she should not bend over in front of him because she was getting him aroused,” the suit contends. Smith complained again to her supervisor and to the HR department.

On June 10, 2022, two younger female co-workers told Smith they were tired of the man’s “continued sexual harassment of them.” Smith urged her co-workers to report the alleged sexual harassment and then Smith reported the outcry of sexual harassment to her supervisor, the lawsuit alleges.

“The supervisor told plaintiff that she was letting the young female co-workers deceive her and that they liked the sexual harassment by that male co-worker, which was untrue,” according to the suit.

Smith next reported the allegations to the general manager. Later, she noticed that the man was not at work for several days. However, on June 17, 2022, she said she was upset to see the co-worker back at work. She complained to the HR director, who told her he understood why she was so upset and suggested she go home with pay for a few days, the suit states.

“…Defendant failed and refused to take immediate and effective action to prevent or remedy the sexual harassment and sexually hostile work environment being created by the above described co-worker,” the suit alleges.

Smith claims in her suit that the general manager called her at home the next day and fired her.