Six former employees of a popular fine-dining restaurant in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit accusing the owner of antigay discrimination and sexual harassment.
The suit, filed Monday in Sussex County, N.J., Superior Court, alleges that Steve Scro, owner of the Mohawk House restaurant in Sparta, “for years subjected his employees to countless acts of sexual abuse and illegal discrimination,” according to a press release from the New York City law firm of Joseph & Norinsberg, which is representing the employees.
James Kruzelnick, a gay man who was a waiter at the restaurant from 2005 to 2018, says that after he came out to Scro in 2008, the owner made gay jokes and frequently called him “faggot.” When Kruzelnick became seriously ill and had to miss work for an extended period, he claims Scro asked him if he had HIV.
Kruzelnick also says another employee sent him emails through a company portal with the salutation “yo gay boy.” Kruzelnick complained to Scro and his wife, Rachel, but the other employee was not reprimanded but was instead promoted, according to the suit. The former waiter further alleges that Steve Scro made various threats toward him and at hit him on the buttocks so hard as to leave bruises. Rachel Scro fired Kruzelnick in 2018.
Craig Vaccaro, another plaintiff in the suit, was a waiter and bartender at Mohawk House. He alleges that Steve Scro smacked him on the buttocks several times without his consent. One of the incidents came after Vaccaro objected to Scro’s comment that Kruzelnick was “acting so faggy,” the suit says. Vaccaro claims his hours were then reduced and he was eventually terminated.
Four women who worked at the restaurant accuse Scro of unwanted touching, including buttock-slapping, and offensive sexual comments. AnnMarie Stefano and Denise Guagenti were bartenders, Lisa Stoeckel a bar manager who was demoted to bartender, and Kayla Dollar a waitress. Their allegations against Scro include that he urged some of them to get breast enhancement surgery, some to dress in a more sexy manner. Stefano says that Scro at one point groped her vaginal area, and when she said she could sue him for such conduct, he replied that he was so well-connected, no one could win a case against him in Sussex County.
The suit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees totaling $15 million.
Stephen Edelstein, a lawyer representing Mohawk House, told the New Jersey Herald the ex-employees’ claims had been investigated and were “without basis.” He added, “This action is intended to hurt a business, already reeling from COVID-19, yet it continues to take every opportunity to assist the community. We look forward to the facts emerging.”
He also told the paper that Kruzelnick “repeatedly turns to the courts with outrageous accounts intended to result in a big payday.” In September, Kruzelnick filed suit against Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst and former New Jersey judge, alleging that Napolitano attempted to rape him and also asked him for sexual favors in exchange for legal assistance. Earlier that month, a South Carolina man, Charles Corbishley, had sued Napolitano as well, saying that when he appeared in Napolitano’s court in the 1980s, the judge offered him a lighter sentence in exchange for oral sex.
Napolitano has denied all the allegations and filed a countersuit against Corbishley, the Herald reports. The commentator’s attorney called Kruzelnick’s suit “copycat nonsense.”
Additionally, Kruzelnick has been sued by Mohawk House. In that suit, filed in Sussex County in May, the business accused Kruzelnick of “inappropriate or unprofessional behavior at work” and said he made threats against the restaurant on social media, some using false identities, according to the Herald.
However, attorney Jon Norinsberg, representing Kruzelnick and the other workers in the new suit, told the paper, “At last, Scro will be held accountable for his grossly improper conduct towards his employees at the Mohawk House, who genuinely needed the income and were terrified.”