Unwanted attention: Bloggers detail sexual harassment at Hadley Route 9 Diner; reforms pledged

Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2014

HADLEY — Online essays by several former employees of the Route 9 Diner detailing ongoing sexual harassment on the job have led the popular 24-hour diner to publicly acknowledge these allegations and make a promise of reform.

“We’re taking a zero tolerance approach,” said Chris Karabetsos, co-owner of the diner at 458 Russell St.

The restaurant’s management acknowledged the claims in a public statement via its Facebook page on Thursday. Management has fired one employee accused of the harassment, has scheduled sexual harassment training for all employees and supervisors and is publishing a new sexual harassment policy, as well as investigating any current abuses, according to the statement.

The diner’s Facebook page was disabled Sunday evening at the request of the business’ lawyer, Karabetsos said, but paper copies of a similar statement are available at the restaurant.

The statement was issued three days after former Route 9 Diner waitress Marie Billiel shared her account on her blog, “Adventures of a World Traveling Waitress,” where she claims to have been sexually harassed on a “near-daily basis” over the five years she worked at the diner. The blog post has since received more 50 comments, has been shared widely on social media, and has encouraged nine other former employees to follow suit with their own blog posts.

Billiel describes incidents on her blog that include one cook attempting to force her into a walk-in cooler while saying, “C’mon, baby. Let me give you a kiss,” and being forcibly kissed on the neck by another.

Even after reporting these incidents to supervisors, her harassers continued to work their shifts, according to her blog. She also writes of encounters she did not report immediately.

“Part of my assimilation into life at the diner had been realizing and accepting that things like being trapped in the walk-in sometimes just happen,” she wrote.

Another blog post was written by Billiel’s friend Jaime Young, now 23, who worked at the diner from August 2012 to April 2013. She now lives in Boston and works as a research technician at Tufts University.

On the blog, Young describes being forcibly kissed on the neck by one cook not long after she began working there, another attempting to force her into the walk-in cooler, and being subjected to sexually suggestive comments on a regular basis.

She reported the behavior to managers, who notified the owners, but the cooks retaliated in ways such as purposely making mistakes preparing her customers’ food, according to her blog.

Young said Sunday night that she does not believe the reforms promised by the diner will lead to long-term change.

It’s a “temporary form of action,” she said. “They don’t take it seriously. If they had ever taken it seriously, then it wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it got.” The employee who was fired this week, she said, has been fired before but rehired. She likened it to putting them in “time out.”

“Clearly, that doesn’t work, because if it did work, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” she said. On her blog, she wrote that the cook who attempted to corner her in the walk-in cooler was fired for drinking on the job, but hired back a short time later.

Karabetsos, who has co-owned the restaurant with Archie Sideris for 11 years, said in the diner Sunday evening that no one had told him of the alleged harassment.

“Honestly, no one brought this to my attention,” he said.

The diner has a total of approximately 45 employees, consisting of nine cooks, four managers, four dishwashers, and the rest wait staff. Karabetsos said everyone is being required to sign the new sexual harassment policy, and he is currently working out a date when everyone can attend a sexual harassment training session.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” he said.

Billiel, who now lives in Tel Aviv, said in an email Sunday that though she had often considered contacting authorities about the harassment, she was dependent on her employment at the time and feared losing her job.

She wrote that while she is glad the diner is addressing the matter, she remains skeptical that there will be any major changes.

“Based on their previous failures to make any, I find it difficult to be hopeful,” she wrote. “The severity of this situation begs the conclusion that this issue is an institutional one, not one of a few problematic cooks’ behavior. I don’t believe this problem will be solved by something as simple as attending a seminar about sexual harassment.”

Young disputes Karabetsos’ claims that he was not aware of the behavior. She said there had been meetings between Karabetsos and members of the staff following the reports of harassment, but that nothing came of them. She said she feels these meetings were just an attempt to get the waitresses to stop complaining.

On her blog, she wrote that she was under the impression that the owners saw the waitresses as more easily replaceable than the cooks.

“It’s much easier in Amherst to find a naive 19-year-old willing to work under disgusting circumstances than it is to find a replacement for a cook who knows the ins and outs of the menu and is willing to work in a gruelingly hot environment for $6-10/hour, for 10-18 hours a day, six days a week,” she wrote.

Karabetsos said he disagrees. The waitresses, he said, are of equal value to the establishment.

“They’re who I want to keep,” he said. “They’re the face of the diner.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.


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