Joseph & Norinsberg Files $15M Lawsuit On Behalf of Six Employees Against Mohawk House Restaurant And Its Owner in New Jersey State Court
Owner Steve Scro Often Grabbed, Smacked and Squeezed Employees’ Buttocks; Told Women to Get Breast Enhancement Surgery; Spewed Demeaning and Homophobic Remarks
November 23, 2020 — New York, NY – Manhattan lawyers Bennitta L. Joseph and Jon L. Norinsberg of Joseph & Norinsberg LLC today filed a $15 million dollar lawsuit in Sussex County Superior Court on behalf of their clients, six former employees of Mohawk House, against Defendants Island Services III, LLC D/B/A Mohawk House Restaurant and owner Steve Scro for sexual abuse, harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
The complaint alleges that Mohawk House, a well-known restaurant in Sparta, New Jersey, is owned by Steve Scro, a sexual predator, who for years subjected his employees to countless acts of sexual abuse and illegal discrimination.
Scro often grabbed, smacked and squeezed his employees’ buttocks of his employees, and at least once, touched an employee’s vaginal area. Scro repeatedly objectified his female employees demanding they obtain breast enhancements and wear low cut blouses. Scro also created a culture of intimidation and threatened his employees that in Sparta he had close connections with many powerful people, including the Sparta police department, judges and local politicians.
- Plaintiff James Kruzelnick
The lawsuit alleges that Plaintiff James Kruzelnick was a waiter at Mohawk House from 2005 until 2018. In 2008, when Mr. Kruzelnick disclosed that he was gay, Scro began to make gay jokes and comments to Mr. Kruzelnick. When Mr. Kruzelnick was extremely ill, and out of work for an extended period, upon his return, Scro inappropriately asked him if he had HIV. Scro’s attitude towards Mr. Kruzelnick became more hostile; the gay jokes increased and Scro often called him “faggot.”
The lawsuit declares that another employee at Mohawk House, Richard “Ricky” Soni also made discriminatory comments to Mr. Kruzelnick on a weekly basis and often directly in front of Scro. However, he was never admonished or disciplined for his grossly improper conduct but instead was rewarded by being promoted to manager.
The complaint attests that on May 16, 2016, Ricky sent Mr. Kruzelnick two emails through a work shift scheduling portal calling him “yo gay boy.” When Mr. Kruzelnick confronted Ricky about the emails, Ricky responded, “You’re gay anyway.” Mr. Kruzelnick mentioned the emails to Scro and his wife, Rachel Scro, who also worked at Mohawk House, but they ignored him.
The complaint contends that Scro engaged in acts of intimidation towards Mr. Kruzelnick, threatening to create trouble at the court for his incarcerated brother. One time, Scro called Mr. Kruzelnick to the speakeasy bar section of Mohawk House, locked him and hit Mr. Kruzelnick’s buttocks extremely hard, leaving a visible mark and bruising.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Kruzelnick tried to stop the abuse and complained verbally and in writing (attached to the complaint) to Defendants about their failure to take corrective action regarding the discrimination he was subjected to, but nothing was done.
The complaint describes that on or about May 22, 2018, two of Defendants’ attorneys questioned Mr. Kruzelnick at the Mohawk House about his allegations against Scro to “sign some paperwork,” which he refused to discuss or sign, feeling intimidated. Scro’s abusive behavior continued and worsened.
The complaint asserts that Mr. Kruzelnick complained in writing to Scro’s wife, who responded only to falsely tell him that he could no longer file a lawsuit because the statute of limitations expired. Mrs. Scro terminated Mr. Kruzelnick on September 28, 2018, and he then received a threatening letter from Scro as well as a phone call from the Sparta police.
- Plaintiff AnnMarie Stefano
The lawsuit states that in November, 2016, Defendants hired AnnMarie Stefano as a bartender. Scro made inappropriate sexual contact with Ms. Stefano, engaged in inappropriate sexually charged banter with her and make sexually offensive and disparaging remarks about her appearance. Scro repeatedly smacked and groped Ms. Stefano’s buttocks and made highly inappropriate suggestions how Ms. Stefano could make herself “hotter” with breast enhancement surgery, even while repeatedly telling her how “hot” she was already. She also noticed how the other Mohawk House employees were intimidated by Scro and warned her about his power.
The lawsuit describes that on November 21, 2018, Ms. Stefano was retrieving ice for the bar, along with her co-worker and as they walked down the basement hall, Scro approached her from behind, aggressively smacked and groped her buttocks and touched her vaginal area. Her co-worked yelled at Scro. The next day, Scro asked Ms. Stefano how her day was going. Ms. Stefano responded that she was extremely tired because she had been crying all night as a direct result of what Scro had done to her, and that she that she could sue him for such actions. Scro responded, “I know everybody in Sussex County, the FBI and Sparta police and that no one could ever win a case against me.”
The complaint details that Ms. Stefano complained about the inappropriate conduct to her manger, Ricky Soni, who ignored her complaints and laughed them off. On or about November 28, 2019, Ms. Stefano resigned.
- Plaintiff Denise Guagenti
The complaint describes that in February 2007, Defendants hired Denise Guagenti as a bartender at the Mohawk House. In 2008, she was promoted to hostess and Scro began to engage in sexually offensive behavior towards her, including frequently kissing her and hugging her, approaching her from behind, grabbing her around her waist and smacking her buttocks; rubbing up against her and touching her as she bent over to unload the dishwasher.
The lawsuit states that on or around late 2008, Scro’s offensive and abusive behavior escalated: he continually touched Ms. Guagenti in an inappropriate way including squeezing and grabbing her buttocks without her consent and looking up her dress while she stood on a ladder. Scro terminated her in December 2010.
- Plaintiff Lisa Stoeckel
The lawsuit maintains that Lisa Stoeckel worked at the bar at Mohawk House since 2004 and Scro openly and frequently made sexually charged remarks to her, insisting that she “dress sexy” and “wear the stuff husbands would be mad at.” Scro would also ask Ms. Stoeckel, as well as other female staff, to kiss him when they walked by him. Often, Scro smacked and grabbed Ms. Stoeckel’s buttocks without her consent.
The lawsuit alleges that as Ms. Stoeckel kept rejecting his advances, Scro grew more hostile towards her: he demoted her from manager to bartender; told the other bartenders that they no longer had to listen to her; and cut her hourly wages. Scro told Ms. Stoeckel that he would never fire her, but would continue to do as he pleased until she was forced to quit. After years of tolerating Scro’s sexual acts of abuse and reprehensible misconduct, Ms. Stoeckel resigned on or about May 4, 2016.
- Plaintiff Kayla Dollar
The lawsuit contends that Kayla Dollar worked as a waitress at the Mohawk House beginning in 2017. Scro repeatedly asked Ms. Dollar to wear lower cut blouses so that she could “make more money,” and remarked on her appearance with comments like, “You look sexy today.” Scro told Ms. Dollar to get a “boob” job to make herself more attractive to customers. Scro repeatedly smacked Ms. Dollar’s buttocks, approached her from behind and rubbed her hip bone without her consent. Even though Ms. Dollar informed Scro that she was in a committed relationship, Scro ignore her and continued to engage in sexual harassment and abuse. She resigned in October 2018.
- Plaintiff Craig Vaccaro
The complaint asserts that in September 2015, Craig Vaccaro was hired as a waiter and later resumed his employment at Mohawk House in November 2016 as a bartender. Mr. Scro on several occasions smacked Mr. Vaccaro on his backside without his consent.
The lawsuit declares that on or around January 16th of 2016, Mr. Vaccaro heard Scro refer to Mr. Kruzelnick as “acting so faggy.” Mr. Vaccaro was insulted and asked Scro, “You know, that’s offensive, right?” Scro shrugged indifferently and then smacked Mr. Vaccaro on his buttocks, as if to demean him for even attempting to stand up to him. Immediately thereafter, Scro significantly reduced the tables Mr. Vaccaro covered and cut his schedule. He was terminated in 2017.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Bennitta L. Joseph stated, “The Plaintiffs have all suffered physical and emotional distress because of Scro’s abhorrent and improper actions that were ignored for many years. No one should suffer this heinous and inappropriate abuse and intimidation in the workplace. And no one should feel uncomfortable, ashamed and humiliated at work.”
“At last, Scro will be held accountable for his grossly improper conduct towards his employees at the Mohawk House, who genuinely needed the income and were terrified of Scro. We are hopeful that more employees at Mohawk House will read about this and will come forward,” added Jon Norinsberg, co-counsel for the Plaintiffs.
The six Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees totaling $15 million pursuant to New Jersey Law C.2A:14-2B. Their causes of action are timely as the statute of limitations for sexual assault/abuse victims who are 18 years of age or older has been extended.
Mr. Kruzelnick also brought a separate claim under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination for the years of enduring a hostile work environment where Scro openly discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation.
The case caption is Kruzelnick et al v. Island Services III, LLC D/B/A Mohawk House Restaurant, and Steve Scro, SSX-L-000524-20.Mohawk House Summons & Complaint w Exhibits
About Joseph and Norinsberg LLP
The team of attorneys at Joseph and Norinsberg LLC are experienced, dedicated, and driven sexual harassment and employment discrimination lawyers. With over 200 cases tried collectively, they have an outstanding track record of success and have many seven figure verdicts and settlements on behalf of their clients. The firm works tirelessly for every client, to ensure their stories are heard, their claims of sexual harassment are proven and the individuals responsible are held accountable. At Joseph & Norinsberg LLC, the overriding mission is to give a voice to the voiceless, empower the powerless and demand equal protections under the law to make certain their clients receive true justice. Visit https://employeejustice.com or call 212 JUSTICE (212-587-8423) for more information.