Iryna Dymskaya v. Orem’s Diner of Wilton Inc.: A federal jury in Bridgeport has awarded a former Wilton diner waitress nearly $85,000 after she proved that she was sexually harassed and threatened by co-workers.
Iryna Dymskaya, who is now in her early 30s and resides in Norwalk, took a job in 2006 as a waitress at Orem’s Diner on Danbury Road in Wilton.
Dymskaya alleged that while she was employed at Orem’s, male employees made numerous sexually explicit and suggestive comments, and one employee in particular repeatedly harassed hr and threatened her with physical harm. The derogatory and offensive comments also focused Dymskaya’s Russian heritage.
According to Dymskaya’s lawyer, Russell Sweeting, of Maya Murphy in Westport, Dymskaya first left her job in November 2009. Dymskaya told her male boss about the harassment and he allegedly told her to stop lying and to get out of the kitchen.
Sweeting said other employees of the diner, especially female workers, have been subjected to similar treatment in the past. The attorney said other former or current waitresses, concerned about job security, did not want to get involved in the litigation.
“There was generally a pattern by owners to favor the male employees over the female employees on most issues,” said Sweeting.
After initially walking away from the job, Dymskayaver returned to work a few days later after her boss’s wife, also a co-owner of the diner, assured the waitress that the harassment would no longer be an issue.
Though the situation initially improved, in time the harassment resumed and actually worsened.
Dymskaya said she was particularly troubled by the comments from one particular employee. A cook named Roberto Garcia “constantly harassed and verbally abused Dymskaya on a weekly basis,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said Garcia frequently grabbed his genitalia and gestured at Dymskaya.
When she again complained, specifically about Garcia’s behavior, she was told “what else is new” and no further action was taken by the diner management, according to Dymskaya’s complaint. By October 2010, things came to a head with Garcia. According to Dymskaya’s lawsuit, the cook harassed her and then threatened to kill her. Three week later, he did so again, stating, “If I had a gun, I would shoot you.”
Dymskaya reported Garcia’s threats to the Wilton Police Department. After an investigation, he was arrested and charged for making threats. Investigators soon discovered that Garcia was undocumented and he was later deported. Sweeting said he’s heard Garcia is back in the U.S. though and there is a warrant out for his arrest. His criminal case is unresolved.
In November 2010, Dymskaya quit the job for good. She hired Sweeting and in 2011 filed a lawsuit in federal court in Connecticut. The complaint asserted federal and state causes of action for hostile work environment based on Dymskaya’s national origin and gender; constructive discharge, meaning she was forced to quit because the employer made the working conditions unbearable; and negligent supervision. She sought compensatory and punitive damages.
Settlement discussions ended without coming to an agreement so the case proceeded to trial last month in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport before Judge Jeffrey Meyer. It was Meyer’s first civil jury trial upon his appointment to the bench.
Evidence presentation lasted three days with Dymskaya and her husband testifying, as well as one of the diner’s managers and multiple waitresses. Sweeting said Dymskaya’s husband testified as to the impact the harassment had on her.
“She had a hard time with it – a lack of sleep, her grades suffered,” said Sweeting. “She was in school during this period of time. Her grades were not as good as otherwise would’ve been.”
Sweeting noted that Dymskaya has since finished school and is now working as a teacher’s assistant at a pre-school.
Sweeting said that while Dymskaya worked at the diner, she would take notes on her waitress notepad regarding the harassing comments that were made to her. Those notes were introduced at trial and viewed by the jurors.
However, at trial, the criminal charges and deportation proceedings against Garcia were not allowed into evidence. Sweeting said the judge ruled that information would be too prejudicial to the defense.
The jury deliberated for about three hours and then found Orem’s Diner liable for hostile work environment discrimination based on gender. The jury awarded $84,501 in damages. Of that amount, $53,500 was for compensatory damages and $31,001 in punitive damages.
“We are very satisfied with the result and pleased that the jury agreed with us that Iryna is entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages,” said Sweeting.
The diner was represented by Stuart Katz of Cohen and Wolf. Katz declined comment for this article.