Former waitress sues Plymouth Country Club alleging harassment

Posted: February 07, 2014

A 35-YEAR-OLD suburban waitress is so fed up with how her ex-boss at a prestigious country club treated her that she's taking him to court.

Last week, Michelle Ciccarella of Montgomery County filed a federal suit against Plymouth Country Club, claiming that Joe Rizzo, the club's general manager, subjected her to unwelcome sexual contact and sexual advances.

The suit says Rizzo and some co-workers regularly slapped her on the behind, told her to get under his desk to earn her keep and then humiliated her in public when she complained.

An attorney for the club called Ciccarella's allegations "baseless."

The suit asks for a jury trial and seeks punitive damages for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" allegedly caused by her working conditions at the club, beginning in 2011. She'd been working at the club since 2008.

The club, in Plymouth Meeting, portrays itself as a bucolic, more-than-a-century-old private golf club about 8 miles northwest of the city.

"Plymouth Country Club has all the elements essential to soothing the spirit and quieting the mind," its website reads.

"Unfortunately, neither the idyllic atmosphere nor the legal advances of the last 100 years have penetrated the defendant's kitchen facilities," said Mark Schwartz, Ciccarella's attorney.

The complaint alleges Ciccarella endured aggressive sexual advances, offensive rubbing, slapping, touching, grinding and genitals stroking, as well as insults such as calling her a "cow" and asking her to "talk to my c--k" while on the job.

"She was constantly being slapped from behind, once, so hard, while bending down reaching into the oven for bread, that she was burned, leaving a scar that remains," Schwartz said.

Manrico Troncelliti, the club's solicitor, denies there was any wrongdoing.

"The club did an investigation and found that the allegations - especially some of the more spectacular ones - simply did not occur," Troncelliti said.

"The club abhors this type of alleged behavior. The plaintiff was not fully cooperative [during an investigation], so [the club] found them to be without merit."

According to court documents, Ciccarella quit Plymouth Country Club in August 2011 after she couldn't take it anymore. Two months later, she filed discrimination charges with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In November 2013, the EEOC informed her of her right to sue.

"She quit after she wrote to the board president and protested her working environment," Schwartz said.

"Instead of it getting better, they retaliated. The board knew what was going on in that kitchen."

Schwartz alleges Rizzo would retaliate by cutting Ciccarella's hours and giving shifts to other servers. One night, said Schwartz, it got so bad that he asked her to "come up to my office, lay on my couch and I will make you my top server."

Troncelliti said Plymouth Country Club has a long-standing "zero- tolerance" policy of anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination.

"To my knowledge, our finding is that this conduct did not occur, so we could not discipline anyone as of a result. That being said, we did take action to reinforce with both the employees and membership some additional training in this area to make sure that they are aware of what is permissible and impermissible conduct between employees as well as with the membership."

"Zero tolerance - didn't John Belushi say that in 'Animal House?' " Schwartz quipped.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $150,000 for losses and attorney fees.

On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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