A civil trial that began on Dec. 4 is scheduled to continue on Monday in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by five former female employees of Original Mike’s Restaurant against downtown Santa Ana developer Michael Frederick Harrah. Although Harrah is named in the lawsuit, it is actually one of his employees, Juan Jose Orozco, a restaurant manager, who is being accused of battery, sexual battery, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and failure to pay wages and provide meal and rest breaks.
Orozco has faced no criminal charges in the case, but according to the lawsuit that was first filed on May 27, 2014, in Orange County Superior Court, Orozco inappropriately touched and groped five female employees and refused to give them shifts if they didn’t line up to hug and kiss him at the end of each shift at the restaurant, located at the intersection of First and Main in downtown Santa Ana.
It is further alleged that Harrah tolerated the behavior because he hugged and kissed female employees of Original Mike’s as well. However, in an Oct. 24 telephone interview with the Weekly, Harrah vehemently denied the allegations against Orozco, who still works at the restaurant/nightspot.
Jeff Spencer, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told the Weekly that Harrah, as the owner and “alter ego” of Original Mike’s Restaurant Management LLC, should be held liable for Orozco’s actions. “No one should have to face these circumstances under employment,” Spencer said. “We hope to be successful and seek justice for all the women who have been abused, threatened and retaliated.”
Referring to the alleged victims, the complaint claims, “Orozco would grope and touch the side of their breasts and their buttocks with his hands.” When the restaurant manager was asked by plaintiffs’ attorney Bradley Gage during a Jan. 15 deposition how many times he had hugged one plaintiff, Orozco answered, “Thousand times. Well, I mean–all the time.”
The Weekly recently met with Orozco in the Original Mike’s dining area, where he refused to comment about the allegations or his testimony.
One complaintant alleges that after she returned from pregnancy leave on Oct. 19, 2013, Orozco told her that he liked the way she looked better when she was pregnant “because her ass was bigger.” When the same woman explained she was upset, Orozco allegedly began to stroke her face with his hands—contact that was uninvited and unwanted by the employee, according to the complaint.
In a 2015 court filing, Will Klatte, Harrah’s attorney, argued that the lawsuit should not go forward because the management company and the restaurant had lapsed into bankruptcy. However, on Oct. 13, 2017, Judge William D. Claster denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“They manipulated the bankruptcy to create an inequitable result here,” argues Spencer, who added that Harrah only filed the motion for dismissal four days before the trial was originally scheduled to begin.
According to the original complaint, Harrah “was aware of the actions of Orozco which occurred in the workplace during work hours.” It is also specifically alleged that “Harrah would hug and kiss his female employees as well and would set an example of tolerating, ratifying, condoning and encouraging hugging and kissing of female employees.”
During a June 23, 2015, deposition, Gage asked Harrah, “You think it–you personally feel it would be appropriate if you were to hug and kiss your female employees on a daily basis, don’t you?”
“Well, I–you know, I don’t know,” Harrah answered. “It depends on the atmosphere and, you know, the person.”
In the interview with the Weekly, Harrah said, “I don’t believe the allegations are true,” about Orozco.
“Juan told me that they were going to do this, they might have had a dispute and made things up,” Harrah said. “It could be that they led this on.”
He also expressed doubts about the employees’ claims because they were made anonymously. “You can’t be fearful,” Harrah argued. “Juan is not a threatening guy. He himself has told me that the girls like how he runs the place. The times I have gone in, I ask them what they think of him and they say ‘Juan is a wonderful boss.'”
The developer/restaurant owner had this advice for his employees: “They can always quit or they can send a letter to the corporate office and we will then take direct action. As a human being, it does disturb me and I condemn these types of actions. I take it very seriously and I don’t put up with any of this. I treat everyone fair. I’ve had my own construction company for 35 years and I’ve never had this happen. It saddens me.”