ROUSES POINT — The owners of Angelo’s Pizza & Grill in Rouses Point say they were wrongfully added to a lawsuit that alleged the former owners subjected seven employees to sexual abuse.
Kostas Kefalas and his wife, Alessandra, own Kefalas Enterprises, the company that now owns Angelo’s.
He said he was made responsible for allegations of abuse in which he was not involved.
“Our corporation didn’t exist at the time of the allegation (of abuse).”
Kefalas said the three men who previously owned the restaurant can only afford to pay $5,000 of the $35,000 settlement the women will receive, so Kefalas Enterprises has to pay the $30,000 balance of total $35,000 amount.
The previous owners of Angelo’s are Kefalas’s mother’s siblings, he said.
The seven women alleged Kostantinos Raptis, Nikolaos Raptis and their brother-in-law Andrew Xenos, groped their breasts and buttocks and made sexually explicit propositions and comments, including requests for sexual acts, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) said in a news release.
The commission says the abuse happened from January 2005 through September 2012.
That agency filed a complaint against the restaurant on Aug. 21, 2011, according to court documents.
The three men were uncooperative in providing their business records to the commission, according to court records.
The court received a letter on Oct. 17, 2012, from the former owners’ lawyer, saying his client had instructed him “to spend no further time defending this litigation.”
The court was also notified that the business’s assets were sold to Kefalas Enterprises for $50,000.
‘IGNORANT OF SUIT’
In court documents, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission alleged Kefalas Enterprises knew of its contingent legal liability when the business changed hands on or about Oct. 1, 2012.
In an answer, Kefalas Enterprises said it “knew of a pending lawsuit but did not know the specifics or details of that lawsuit.”
Kefalas said he decided to purchase Angelo’s after he and his wife, Alexandra, returned to the United States in April 2012 after living in Greece for about six years.
The former owners and Kefalas Enterprises used the same lawyer to facilitate the sale of the business on both ends, according to the commission.
Kefalas said he kept on all the employees working there when he took ownership.
Xenos and his wife, Joanne, remained on staff for a month and a half to two months after Kefalas bought the restaurant, but they left after that, he said.
“It’s pretty standard practice when you buy a restaurant to keep the old owners on for a while to ensure a smooth transition,” he said.
In court documents, the commission alleged that two women were fired by the new owner in retaliation for reporting the sexual harassment, making Kefalas Enterprises eligible for addition to the lawsuit as a successor employer.
Kefalas said he did fire those employees about a month after he took over, but not for that reason.
The two waitresses were let go, he said, because they were not charging or were improperly charging friends and others for meals, drinks and desserts, which is against company policy.
In hindsight, Kefalas said, he should have contacted police with his suspicions.
The two employees, not identified by the Press-Republican because they were not charged by police, told the newspaper they were not guilty of those accusations.
They were the only two claimants in the suit who were still working at Angelo’s, according to court documents filed by the commission.
‘ADDED TO LAWSUIT’
On Nov. 16, 2012, the commission filed a motion for Kefalas Enterprises to be added to the lawsuit.
“I was blindsided by the whole thing,” Kefalas said. “The EEOC purposely tried to blur the line between me and my relatives.”
He grew up working with his father, Thomas, in his restaurant in New Hampshire, and said in their 30 years of business, they had never had a complaint of harassment or abuse.
On April 2, 2013, the suit was settled at a federal courthouse in Albany, Kefalas said.
Judith A. Biltekoff, senior trial attorney for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, acted on behalf of the plaintiffs.
As part of the settlement approved by the federal court district judge, Kefalas has put an anti-harassment policy in place at Angelo’s that defines harassment for employees and instructs them to report abuse to him.
“That was always my intention,” he said. “I just never imagined I would have to do it like this.”
The policy states that he will investigate any alleged abuse.
“We encourage you to report anything that makes you uncomfortable,” the policy reads. “We want to ensure that all of our employees enjoy working at our establishment.”
‘HAD TO SETTLE’
Kefalas said he had to settle the suit because he could not afford to pay an attorney to litigate it.
His only other option was to close the restaurant, he said.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission was not sympathetic to his predicament, he said.
“She (Biltekoff) basically responded and said, ‘That’s not my problem.’”
The Raptises and Xenos could not be reached by the Press-Republican for comment.
Kefalas said the money he paid his attorneys to settle the suit could have been used to help grow his business.
“Paying for somebody else’s mistakes is a very bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “We have had a very hard time with this whole situation — it almost cost us our business, amongst other things.”
Kefalas said they are trying to put the experience behind them, focusing now on a kitchen upgrade, small interior remodel and outdoor seating for spring 2014, along with an expanded menu.
“We plan to lay roots,” he said. “This is our future.”
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