Bad Touch

Bashar Sneeh, left, and his partner Faisal Nimiri entertain the crowd at Dametra Cafe, one of three restaurants they own on Ocean Avenue.

Dametra Cafe in downtown Carmel has grown in popularity over the years, thanks to the party-like atmosphere fostered by co-owners Bashar Sneeh and Faisal Nimri. Most nights, Sneeh pulls out his six-string Greek oud and Nimri plays an Egyptian drum to entertain diners. It may be fun in the front of house, but two employees are claiming it was a different story in the back of house at two other restaurants the men own on Ocean Avenue.

Sneeh’s and Nimri’s company, JFCB, Inc., is the defendant in a lawsuit brought Jan. 31 by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in U.S. District Court which contends JCFB violated federal law by permitting employees to sexually harass the two workers at Porta Bella and Mediterranean restaurants.

A male line cook claims he endured repeated groping of his genitals and buttocks by kitchen manager Leonardo Sanchez and cook Victor Rivera soon after he started working at Porta Bella in January 2016, according to court documents. The cook complained twice to his supervisor, Chef Jacques Zagouri, only to be told to ignore it. He turned to Sneeh and Nimri to tell them he felt humiliated and embarrassed by the gropings, and Sneeh allegedly told him, “they only play.”

In June 2016, the cook outlined his complaints in a letter from his attorney, after which Zagouri became hostile and rude, routinely criticizing his work, the documents state. In July 2016, Zagouri allegedly “violently shoved” the cook and struck him twice, according to the lawsuit. The cook quit on July 31, 2016.

A female dishwasher who started working at Mediterranean Restaurant in December 2015 claims Sanchez routinely made unwelcome sexual comments. He allegedly once stuck his tongue in her ear while she was washing dishes and, on another occasion, put his hand under her shirt and grabbed her breast. At one point he told her if she wanted a promotion to line cook, she’d have to sleep with him, the lawsuit states.

Last June, the line cook filed a charge with the EEOC, which determined his claims had merit. The commission made at least two attempts to reach a settlement with the company, but was unsuccessful. JCFB attorney Jeannette Witten did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction requiring JCFB to prevent an “offensive, abusive, intimidating and hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” It asks JCFB provide the line cook with back pay and compensate both the cook and dishwasher for losses caused by pain and suffering, plus damages.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Faisal Nimri's name. His surname is Nimri not Nimiri as appeared on several references.

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