WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- A popular bar in West Des Moines is being sued for sexual harassment and retaliation after two teenage sisters say they were harassed and then punished for reporting it to superiors.
Mary Feuerhelm says her two daughters, Kennedy and Sydney, are scarred for life after working at Wellman's Pub and Patio. The teens were hired as table runners in August and September of 2016. A lawsuit claims they quickly became targets for harassment.
“It breaks my heart. I want to make it better and I can't. I'm just tired of feeling like they are living with a dirty little secret that they did nothing wrong,” says Mary.
Mary and her daughters filed a lawsuit last week. They say a cook at Wellman's, Henry Gutierrez, repeatedly rubbed his pelvis against Kennedy’s rear end. One of the girls also accuses him of pinning her against the counter while grabbing her breasts and buttocks. The lawsuit also states Gutierrez shut both girls in the walk-in cooler and turned off the lights while other employees watched.
The girls say they repeatedly told management of the harassment. Three of the restaurant's managers are named in the lawsuit; it says Stephanie Smith, Zachary Baldwin, and Thomas Baldwin admitted to knowing about the cook's behavior.
“I was brushed off. They wanted to make it seem like they were boyfriend girlfriend. It was all put back on her and it infuriated me more,” says Mary.
Kennedy and Sydney say they complained about the cook for four months before management told him to quit speaking to the girls. Following that, they say their hours were cut and they were transferred to a different restaurant. The law firm representing the family says this type of behavior is common in the food service industry.
“When someone comes forward an finds that strength to make that complaint, oftentimes there is swift backlash and there is not only retaliation, but also in the way people view them and treat them going forward,” says attorney Brooke Timmer of Fiedler and Timmer.
The teens say management made it unbearable to work at the new restaurant, so they quit. The family hopes by speaking up, Wellman’s will be held accountable.
“It’s infuriating that it was allowed to happen. It bothers me that it still could be happening to other people. It bothers me that it may have happened in the past to other people. It just doesn't seem like there was any action done.”
The family alleges the cook is still employed by Wellman’s. Channel 13 reached out to Wellman’s, but a manager on-site refused to comment.