A South Philadelphia gay man filed suit last week in federal court claiming pervasive anti-LGBT harassment forced him out of a restaurant job.
Sebastian Cummings, 29, worked at a Fishtown eatery known as Loco Pez for about two months last year. He was a dishwasher and prepped food at the eatery, which caters to Latin-American patrons.
According to Cummings’ lawsuit, which was filed March 1, he had no choice but to resign after the anti-LGBT harassment became intolerable. He’s seeking an unspecified amount in damages, and corrective measures at Loco Pez.
Slurs hurled by some Loco Pez workers on a regular basis include “cock smokers,” “cock suckers,” “homos,” “faggots” and “girlfriends,” according to the suit.
“[Cummings’] male colleagues regularly said, ‘Oh, you’re gay as shit’ … ‘your gay ass’ and ‘you look gay’ to other employees on a daily basis,” Cummings stated in his suit.
Male workers with long hair, non-traditional clothing or stereotypically feminine behavior were particularly susceptible to abuse, according to the suit.
“[Cummings’] male colleagues and a male supervisory manager, Sergio, regularly engaged in physical conduct with each other in [Cummings’] presence consisting of pantomiming fellatio and ‘humping’ other men from behind in the kitchen,” according to the suit.
Additionally, an overhead menu at Loco Pez states, “Si putos tengo ATM,” which roughly translates to “Yes, fags, I have an ATM,” according to the suit.
“’Puto’ is a derogatory Spanish epithet for gay men that means ‘poof,’ ‘pansy,’ ‘fairy’ or ‘fag,’ while ‘puta’ in Spanish is a traditionally feminine noun,” Cummings contends in the suit.
When Cummings complained to management, he was told that coworkers meant him no harm, according to the suit. The head chef allegedly told Cummings, “I guarantee they won’t do anything [to you],” and “They don’t mean anything by it.”
In June, Cummings filed antibias complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. But the situation only worsened, according to the suit.
In July, a coworker threatened another man with violence after the man allegedly made a sexual advance. Cummings resigned to ensure his personal safety, according to the suit.
“The harassment was subjectively and objectively offensive, severe and pervasive, and so intolerable that [Cummings] was forced to quit. After quitting, [Cummings] changed his appearance by cutting his hair short, and changed his demeanor to conform to gender norms,” according to the suit.
Cummings’ suit seeks a judicial order for Loco Pez to remove “bitches” and “putos” from its menu sign, to post an antibias policy at Loco Pez and to provide anti-harassment training for all Loco Pez workers.
Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Cummings, said his client is optimistic that justice will be served.
“Sebastian was really shaken by this experience,” Robinette told PGN. “This lawsuit can’t erase what happened to Sebastian. But at the very least, the remedies we seek will help Sebastian rebuild his life. We’ll both be very gratified if our efforts ensure this doesn’t happen to somebody else.”
Robinette emphasized that the menu sign wasn’t a major concern for Cummings.
“The sign was an issue, but was only a fraction of the harassment. Sebastian just wants people to understand that this wasn’t mere horseplay. It was truly a hostile work environment that felt threatening,” Robinette concluded.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle 3d. A jury trial has been requested.
An attorney for Loco Pez couldn’t be reached for comment by presstime.