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Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Michael Lynn, a professor of food and beverage management at Cornell University, published a study in 2009 that found that waitresses with blonde hair, larger breasts, and smaller waists received higher tips than women without those traits.  

Waitresses endure sexual harassment with impunity. 90 percent of women in the US restaurant industry report being subject to unwanted sexual advances at work, and over half of them say these interactions occur weekly, according to a Restaurant Opportunities Center report from 2014.  The restaurant industry employs 10 percent of the overall US workforce.

Between 2004 and 2014, restaurants in 15 states paid $10 million in settlements and damages for sexual harassment cases.  Nearly 40 percent of all sexual harassment claims made to the federal agency that deals with workplace discrimination originate with misconduct in the restaurant industry.  

The 2014 study found that the most common forms of sexual harassment include sexual teasing, cornering, leaning over, deliberate touching, pinching, and pressure for dates.  

Saru Jayaraman, the founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center says that “the culture of sexual assault in the restaurant industry isn’t an accident” but a direct result of “the sub-minimum wage and the fact that the majority of people living off tips are women.”