Clearwater bartender files suit against bar for harassment over mask enforcement
Enforcing mask wearing policies can be dangerous, CDC says. Image via AP.

covid-19
"Customers would scream and yell at her, calling her vulgar name.

A Clearwater bartender has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, alleging that the bar did not take reasonable precautions to protect her from harassment for enforcing COVID-19 mitigation rules, like mask-wearing and social distancing.

Former employee Sarah Douglas filed the suit on May 11, and is seeking damages from Overtime Sports Bar for suffering a hostile work environment, as well as alleged disability discrimination.

In the complaint, Douglas alleges that the bar’s manager frequently forced her to work late-night shifts alone and confront customers who didn’t comply with mask requirements. Douglas also alleges that the bar management told her that she would be responsible to pay any related fines the bar might receive over mask violations.

“Defendant did not support employees, including Plaintiff, if a threatening or violent situation occurred,” the complaint reads. “Rather, the owner Thomas E. George, put the onus completely upon Plaintiff and other frontline workers to confront customers for perceived infractions and even unlawfully threatened: ‘If we get a fine … the bar staff working will have to pay it …'”

The complaint references guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provide precautions to take to avoid violence against employees who try to enforce COVID-19 restrictions at work.

The complaint states, “The CDC has declared that employers should not negligently expose frontline workers to potential workplace violence by forcing them to confront customers for perceived infractions of local COVID face mask mandates or company rules.” The danger may be even greater at businesses that serve alcohol, according to the CDC.

But, the complaint alleges, Overtime Sports Bar’s management team took few such precautions to protect workers — leading to what Douglas is claiming as a hostile work environment.

The lack of precautions led to customers accosting the plaintiff, according to the suit, because she had to enforce mask policies during the night shift.

“Customers would scream and yell at her, calling her vulgar names including ‘you stupid b****h’ and ‘you’re a mean a** c**t,” the complaint states.

In response to telling management about her concern over the harassment, Douglas alleges that management did nothing to stop it and failed to take any remedial action to stop it or mitigate it. Instead, Douglas alleges, a manager told her that she “did not believe” her.

In one incident described in the suit, Douglas recalls a few late-night customers screaming at her, calling her vulgarities and threatening to beat her up.

“Plaintiff feared for her safety and thought the woman was going to lunge at her over the bar at one point,” the complaint reads.

And because of the lack of action, Douglas has also alleged disability discrimination in her suit.

The suit alleges that the stress caused by customer threats worsened her severe anxiety — Douglas was diagnosed in both 2015 and 2018 with post-traumatic stress disorder, including anxiety and nightmares, as a result of severe child abuse, the suit states.

“The constant fear of harassment and physical violence caused such constant anxiety that many times Plaintiff had to walk in the walk-in cooler or office just to calm down and breath or cry her eyes out because of how bad she was getting treated, knowing there was nothing she could do about it,” the complaint reads. 

Douglas is currently seeking more than $30,000 in damages, and equitable relief for violations of the Florida Civil Rights Act.

The former bartender also filed a written charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations back in September 2020. Those charges are still pending. 

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]



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