Waitresses force East Side Mario’s owner to act on sexual harrassment complaints
MEGAN CLEARY WAS DETERMINED TO END HER SEXUAL HARRASSMENT AT WORK. She expected her human rights to be honoured. She didn't stop until they were.
Former East Side Mario’s waitress Megan Cleary (right) with her mother, Dawn Cleary [Heather Rivers/Sentinel Review]
MEGAN CLEARY WAS DETERMINED TO END HER SEXUAL HARRASSMENT AT WORK. She expected her human rights to be honoured. She didn’t stop until they were.
Megan worked as a waitress at an East Side Mario’s restaurant in Woodstock, Ontario. Her manager subjected her to continuous unwanted sexual advances. The harrassment began with suggestions of sexual touching. It soon escalated to sexual assault when he began to grab Megan’s breasts. He even went so far as to seize her from behind and pull her tight to him.
Megan constantly demanded the manager stop. His actions made her burst into tears. It didn’t matter. He continued his abuse. Finally, Megan and another waitress, decided to take action.
They met with the restaurant’s general manager. Their mothers went along with them. Megan submitted a written complaint. It detailed the ongoing abuse. Five other women also attested to the manager’s attacks.
In addition, the women sent a letter to the franchise owner, Frank Spadafora, and filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
After the meeting, the women were told that the manager would be fired.
But it didn’t happen. Instead he was given a short leave of absence and then allowed to return to work.
The franchise owner had decided there wasn’t enough evidence to remove the manager from his job.“I cannot begin to comprehend that seven different girls experienced such a severity of sexual assault and they didn’t fire the guy,” says Megan.
That’s when she made the painful decision to leave the job she loved. She saw no other way to escape the abuse. But Megan wasn’t done. She and her workmate decided to go to the press. Megan saw it as the only way to protect other women.
Once the media began calling the franchise and Cara foods, the manager was fired.
In October, Megan’s abuser, Adam Golton, was charged with sexual assault. The president of East Side Mario’s stated he was aware that Woodstock police had laid charges against his former manager. The franchise owner declined all further comment. So, whether or not hiring policies, or life on the job,at East Side Mario’s will change remains an unknown.
A long hard road
None of this was easy for Megan. She faced what most women experience when they stand up against an abuser. She was accused of lying, of making up the story to get attention, and of ruining a man’s life.
She says: “The thing I want to get across is that his repercussions are a product of his own actions and it has nothing to do with me. I really genuinely hope that anybody else that has gone through something like this knows that they are not to blame.
“And to anybody that just automatically, wants to accuse somebody going through something like this of being a liar and making this up: Sorry to break it to you, but YOU are the problem. You are the problem that women aren’t taken seriously and you are the problem that so many people suffer in silence. You are an enabler.”
It’s not supposed to be this way. The law is supposed to protect workers from such abuse. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, if the alleged harasser is a supervisor, the employer is required to investigate and to provide written results of the investigation to the complainant. Megan didn’t know that. But even if she had there is nothing to compel the employer to act.
The truth still is that most of the time the evidence of multiple female complainants is rejected in favour of the word of one man with power.
"You should not have to beg for people to believe you. And you sure as fucking hell should not have to beg for your human rights." Megan Cleary
Some signs of change
The courageous action that Megan and her fellow workers demonstrated is part of a larger movement that has brought down serial abusers like Harvey Weinstein and launched the #metoo campaign.
Other workers are gaining similar victories across the country. In a recent case, Halifax judge, Marc Chisholm, called a victim “courageous” after “she made a complaint in spite of an unsupportive business environment in terms of her sexual abuse complaint.” Her supervisor was fired and sentenced to eight months.
And prominent Ottawa celebrity chef Matt Carmichael pre-emptively stepped down from his position in late October amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment at work.
Megan Cleary is a fighter and she’s damn well sure that nothing is going to stop her or other women from getting justice. In her own words: ”You should not have to beg for people to believe you. And you sure as fucking hell should not have to beg for your human rights.”