Two former employees allege ‘pervasive’ sexual harassment at Connecticut restaurant chain

Oct 3 2019

As featured in the Hartford Courant 

Two Connecticut women are suing Maggie McFly’s and the former manager of the chain’s Manchester restaurant, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment and abuse.

Gianna Aconfora said the torrent of obscene and offensive comments began shortly after she was hired as a server in the fall of 2017.

“You look so sexy, I can’t stop staring at you,” the restaurant’s manager, Daniel Therian, told Aconfora, according to the lawsuit.

Her colleague, Maizzy Douchette, said she endured a similar pattern of sexually inappropriate and demeaning remarks during the year she worked at the restaurant. At one point, according to the lawsuit, Therian told her, “I’m going to kill you and rape your dead body.”

The Southbury-based restaurant chain denies the allegations.

In the lawsuit, filed this week in Hartford Superior Court, both women also said Therian physically assaulted them. Douchette said Therian violently squeezed her neck, Aconfara said he slapped her face.

But when they complained to Maggie McFly’s management, the women said they were fired.

“We didn’t know where to turn or what to do,” Douchette recalled Thursday, during an emotional press conference at the Legislative Office Building.

Ultimately, they shared their stories with someone in Douchette’s family, who convinced them to pursue a legal case against the restaurant chain.

The women discussed their lawsuit in light of new changes to the state’s sexual harassment laws.

The Time’s Up Act, which received bipartisan support in the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this year, mandates stronger training programs to address sexual harassment in the workplace. The law, which took effect Tuesday, requires two hours of training for all employees at companies with three or more employees. Previously, only supervisors at companies with 50 or more workers had to undergo training.

“Our state now has some of the strongest laws in the country with regard to sexual harassment, particularly sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, a Killingly Democrat and one of the new law’s chief sponsors.

“These laws are critical so people know what their rights are, and know what kind of behavior is acceptable in the workplace and know where to go when they’re enduring the kind of behavior these two brave women had to endure in their workplace,” she added.

Therian could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, Maggie McFly’s denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuit brought by Aconfora and Douchette.

“McFly’s is a locally owned, community oriented family restaurant with deep roots in the state of Connecticut,” the company said. “Maggie’s fully supports Sen. Flexer’s efforts and applauds her work championing the rights of those who are subject to workplace harassment. The company, which is proud of its relationship with its over 500 Connecticut employees, vehemently denies the factual allegations of Ms. Aconfora and Ms. Douchette.”

Flexer said the law provides employees with the tools to address workplace sexual harassment. “Because all employees in the state of Connecticut will be trained on sexual harassment law, they will know what is correct and appropriate behavior in the workplace and what isn’t,” she said.

“It’s about changing the culture,” Flexer added.

The culture of harassment is common in many industries, including among low-wage restaurant workers, Flexer said. “There are certain industries and I think most people believe the restaurant industry is one of them, where this kind of behavior is unfortunately a little more pervasive,” she said.

Joshua R. Goodbaum, one of the lawyers representing Aconfora and Douchette, said he does not believe the women received any training from Maggie McFly’s on the law regarding sexual harassment and what their rights are as victims.

“I have seen no evidence that either Maizzy or Gianna were trained in any way about what to do if they experienced sexual harassment,” Goodbaum said. “Under the bill that Sen. Flexer has championed, the company has to tell them, ‘here are your avenues of complaint, here are the people you can talk to’ and that’s extremely important … to know.”

Aconfora and Douchette’s lawsuit is being supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, a national group that helps pay legal costs for people alleging harassment.

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