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Route 9 Diner’s response to sexual harassment allegations met with skepticism by former employees

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Photo by Cade Belisle/Collegian

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Updated: 7:02 p.m.

The Route 9 Diner in Hadley has responded to a series of allegations of sexual harassment made by former employees, announcing it will conduct an internal review and hold periodical sexual harassment awareness training, according to a prepared statement by owners Chris Karabetsos and Archie Sideris.

The promise comes after 11 former employees came forward on online blogging platforms, including WordPress and Tumblr, to recount stories of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Route 9 kitchen staff.

Marie Billiel, now 25, was the first to share her story on her blog, “Adventures of a World-Traveling Waitress.” She said that from 2008 to 2013 she worked at Route 9, and was sexually harassed “on a near-daily basis.” On one occasion, she wrote that she was dragged into the walk-in cooler by a cook who was trying to kiss her. Another time, a different cook kissed her on the neck without her consent.

In a Skype interview with the Collegian from Tel Aviv, where she is currently living, Billiel said she and other employees informed Route 9 managers and owners on several occasions, but no significant changes were made, and the harassment continued.

“Part of my assimilation into life at the diner had been realizing and accepting that things like being trapped in the walk-in sometimes just happen,” Billiel wrote on her blog.

Billiel’s blog post inspired others to share their experiences, including former Route 9 waitress and UMass grad Jaime Young, who worked at the diner from August 2012 to May 2013.

“It was something that we all talked about doing sometime,” Young told the Collegian. “I figured my voice would only make Marie’s stronger and inspire others to come forward.”

On her blog, Young detailed the harassment she experienced, including being cornered and forcibly kissed on the neck by cooks several times. She wrote that the kitchen staff would not give her her tables’ food until she showed them her tongue and would purposely mess up her orders after she complained to the management.

Still, she said nothing was done.

“If there’s one thing the owners made clear, it was that all waitresses were expendable. And to an extent they’re completely right,” Young wrote. “It’s much easier in Amherst to find a naive 19 year old willing to work under disgusting circumstances than it is to find a replacement for a cook who knows the ins and outs of the menu and is willing to work in a gruelingly hot environment for $6-10/hour, for 10-18 hours a day, six days a week.”

According to the diner’s statement, released by its attorney last week, Route 9 has never had a sexual harassment suit filed, a sexual harassment complaint settled out of court or a complaint made to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in the 11 years it’s been open.

The diner’s internal review, according to the statement, will be conducted by former Hampden County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dineen to “help ensure that management identifies any necessary protocols in creating a zero tolerance environment as it relates to any workplace sexual harassment.”

Photo by Cade Belisle

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Periodical sexual harassment awareness training for all employees and additional training of management personnel will be led by a trainer who attended the MCAD sexual harassment training program “to ensure that they identify and properly respond to any sexual harassment of which they become aware of which is brought to their attention,” the statement said.

According to a sign on the diner’s door, the restaurant will be closed Monday from 2:30 to 6 p.m. for staff training.

However, neither Billiel nor Young believe the actions promised by the diner are sufficient.

“It is the consensus among us that that is not going to do anything because the problem is much deeper than a couple people misbehaving,” Billiel said.

“It’s not people not knowing their boundaries, it’s people not caring,” Young added. “Right then and there was me hearing (the owners) say, we never listened to you before, but look we just did it.”

In a statement on its Facebook page, which has since been disabled, the diner said it had also fired one employee accused of harassment.

Young said this is not the first time that particular employee has been fired.

Young and Billiel both also recalled another employee who had been fired at least twice and rehired, and according to Young, a cook that corned her in the walk-in cooler was also fired and rehired.

“They basically just put them in timeout for a week,” she said. “They do all these action things to make a statement.”

Follow-up blog posts by other former Route 9 staff described more alleged problems at the diner, including employees being forced to work when ill, poor food safety and waitstaff being forced to pay for walkouts, which is illegal.

“We all knew it wasn’t legal, but when you’re constantly told how expendable you are, you just take it on the chin,” Young said. “The constant fear of messing up … I was walking on eggshells at all times.”

A Facebook event, titled, “PROTEST AT THE ROUTE 9 DINER!,” is scheduled by the public for Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. According to the event, customers will help employees demand fairer hours and pay, new management practices, increased security and consequences for breaking sexual harassment policies. Donations will be collected to distribute as tips for waitresses working during the protest.

However, many current Route 9 employees feel the issue is overblown.

“The employees of the Route 9 diner will not be demanding fairer hours, pay or new management practices,” said Sophia Marciano, who has been working at the diner for nearly four years, in an email Sunday night. “Neither will we be demanding security or consequences for sexual harassment that we have NEVER been exposed to. And most of all, we do not support the claims of our former co-workers and we do not support the ‘supporters’ of ourselves.”

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.

Correction: A previous version of this story implied the Route 9 Diner employees were organizing the Nov. 16 protest. It has since been corrected above.

11 Comments

11 Responses to “Route 9 Diner’s response to sexual harassment allegations met with skepticism by former employees”

  1. Racky Fidge on November 9th, 2014 3:47 pm

    So if these bloggers are trying to get girls to speak up about their harassers, why haven’t any current employees spoken up yet? Why haven’t any quit? Nows there chance isnt it? They have an entire town supporting them. They haven’t because they have no problems at their jobs. Because these blogs are based on tall tales. Because we have never been harassed unless we instigated it and rightfully deserved it. The only times I was harassed without asking for it… It was by the hands of several of these bloggers. They made work miserable. We are all happy they are gone. And they’re upset that were happy so they are trying to ruin it for us. The protest was cancelled. And not a SINGLE employee was going to it. We are ALL in support of the diner. How are all of us in support of a place where we are harassed daily?!?! Because we aren’t harassed. Because everyone is our friend there. We crack jokes back and forth because that’s what friends do. The employees watched all of these “incidents” happen. We will all tell you they are in some way wrong. Why protest us? Why ruin a place we perfected. We are strong women and when anything started going wrong, we would fix it instantly. We wouldn’t laugh about it, let people think its okay, then blog about it years later form another country. Somebody here is wrong and it’s not us. Learn both sides to a story before you write about it. If you want to protest. Find the facebook page for “SUPPORT THE ROUTE 9 DINER” because that is the real goal here. Supporting a perfectly good business from its angry attention seeking exaggerating ex employees. They are out for blood not for change and reform. We need to support reform and positive change. Not punishment.

  2. Racky Fidge on November 9th, 2014 3:49 pm

    And nobody is fighting for fair wages. We all get paid well…. So idk where you are getting your information but I suggest finding a new source. Like maybe the current staff. I have testimonies from more than 15 current waiteesses. Are you interested in those or do you only like the negative views on things. A good happy problem less story isn’t interesting anyway is it

  3. Racky Fidge on November 9th, 2014 4:10 pm

    I’m not saying nothing bad has ever happened. A long time ago a few cooks took it too far and yes were fired. And yes one was rehired a year later. And he never did anything wrong again. But these bloggers demanded he be fired again. Why? He changed for the better. Isn’t that the best way to help the world? To fix problems and not just kick them out? But nothing bad has happened in years. Because we took care of it all already. And to not be acknowledged for positive change is really heartbreaking and is the reason a lot of people don’t work for positive change anymore. Because it gets harassed.

  4. Iprefertostay anoymous on November 10th, 2014 8:13 am

    Even if the problem “was corrected” it doesn’t’the take away what has happened there. I worked there for a while and I can honestly say that I have experienced 100% of what she is stepping forward for. Unclean work conditions, how many times did we have to reuse creamers that were sitting in a pile of dirty dishes or get lettuce from a digit trash can in the walk in cooler. I think my favorite was when I watched the “baker” making dessert and smoke a cigarette at the same time, to this day I still won’t eat black forrest cake. As for the sexual harassment, it was very real and I find it hard to believe that it has stopped. I quit the diner after one of the cooks followed me into the walk in fridge and asked me on a date. After I said no I have a boyfriend he started to get grabby. He went so far as to rub my butt and when I pulled away stuck his hands inside my pants. I was disgusted and when I told management they laughed and told him to leave me alone with a smile on his face still.
    The diner deserves to be reported and I hope that real changes do happen there because no one should ever have to work in conditions like that.

  5. Jess Fredrick on November 10th, 2014 9:38 am

    This article, really. These bloggers are not innocent in all of this. You need to do more research on this topic so you don’t publish false information. Why is no one talking to current employees? Not interested in hearing the truth?

    I am a current employee of the Route 9 Diner, and guess what? I choose to work there, I love my job. The managers and owners are great. I have worked there for a little under 2 years, I have been alone with cooks, managers, and owners and worked every shift available at one point or another. I have NEVER had a problem with anyone there. We have a really cohesive staff and it is like one big family.

  6. racky fidge on November 10th, 2014 10:33 am

    to the anonymous poster:
    youre basically saying that no matter what, even with an entirely new staff and new rules, youd still never eat there because of something that happened years ago.

    those creamers get taken off the table by the servers. that was a change that was made immediately once actually brought up by the servers.
    and the lettuce is in a food safe bucket….. idk why you are referring to is as a trash can. dont make it sound repulsive. its clean and kept completely covered.

    smoking isnt allowed inside….

    and either your sexual harassment story is fake or happened by somebody who doesnt even work there anynore. take your pick. because thats the most ridiculous thing ive ever heard based on our current employees

  7. MiserableSod on November 10th, 2014 12:52 pm

    I think both sides of the argument have some merit. It could be overblown hyperbole, and it could be some serious misconduct and downright unacceptable behavior. The fact of the matter is that it has been said, alluded, published, and in many cases believed. The diner owners, I believe, are obligated to PROVE, not say, PROVE, that the allegations are either false or being rectified. I also think some form of investigation should occur. If you’ve never been sexually harassed, it’s not something that is easy to confront because it is both degrading for the victim (despite it being entirely not their fault) and difficult to prove without serious repercussions.

    Honestly, the people who keep affirming about how things are kept clean or unclean are just as guilty of rash publishing as the bloggers might be. And to be honest I think the people talking for the diner’s staff as a whole are taking some serious and unfounded liberty. As a reader, I don’t want people’s affirmation. I want evidence. I want an official investigation. I want unexpected, unannounced visits by health inspectors and possibly a number to be prominently displayed in the workplace that employees can call and safely report inappropriate behavior. I don’t trust employees, and I don’t trust employers. I trust official action. And thus far the lack of official action is disgraceful.

    And, to be clear, I don’t think an investigation concerning this matter should be a matter of expense, convenience or time. This is a matter of personal dignity and rights, for both the employees and the owner. And until someone with authority and jurisdiction decides to ball up and commit some resources to clear this up, it’s just going to be an unsightly blemish on the community’s reputation.

  8. MiserableSod on November 10th, 2014 1:01 pm

    I apologize, my above statement concern official inaction is erroneous. The above article mentions that a district attorney is leading an effort to review and “re-educate” the employees through seminars. Though I find that method to be a band-aid solution at best, and a dangerously meek slap on the wrist if there is a real offender.

  9. Larz on November 10th, 2014 1:49 pm

    Interesting debate over the legitimacy of the allegations. It’s possible that conditions have changed since those first allegations were made. And each individual has their own way of dealing with sexual comment and innuendo. Some treat it as joking. But no means no, and that’s where it’s got to end. Props to the owners for taking this seriously and having training and a review by an impartial and qualified investigator.

  10. Racky Fidge on November 11th, 2014 10:46 am

    Miserablesod. All excellent points. But an investigation is not happening because no girl is pressing charges and I do not believe its because they are afraid of anyone there… I think they’re afraid there is too much proof against them. Not saying they are lying 100% but most did throw a lie or an exaggeration in their blogs from what I saw and I think if caught, that will blow their credibility on anything that may be true. And they don’t want to risk that. So as for now, none have decided to get an investigation. You as well as us employees may never know if it’s true or not. So we have to try to forget it because there will never be proof either way.

  11. Joshua Delaney on November 13th, 2014 9:40 am

    From the blog post, she mentions there are recording devices everywhere. That’s the proof that is needed: the videos. For one year, have someone review tapes of the kitchen, or everywhere. If there is sexual harassment, it will be found.

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