D.C. restaurant worker Liana Estona was recently awarded $6 million in damages in her sexual harassment case against her former employer, La Carbonara Restaurant and its owner, Fekeru Bekele, according to the DC Employment Justice Center. Estona (not her real name) “came to our clinic in January 2009 because she had not been paid properly by her former employer,” said Laura Brown, legal services director at EJC. The story of sexual abuse by Bekele came out during the initial interview and the EJC referred Estona’s case to local law firm Arnold and Porter.
After testimony from five expert witnesses, who spoke of the severe physical, emotional, and economic trauma that Estona had endured, the judge awarded Estona $6 million in damages and issued a permanent injunction against Bekele, preventing him from approaching within 100 feet of Estona, her home or current workplace.
According to Brown, the judge decided on a default judgment, after Bekele failed to file an answer. “In most sexual harassment cases, it comes down to a number of things, but this case was different because it got a default judgment; there wasn’t even a trial.”
Brown said they see 1,300 clients a year through their workers rights clinic, though a majority of those clients are referred to other law firms to handle their cases.
EJC sees many clients who claim to have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, but because harassment often goes on behind closed doors, it’s hard to prove such cases in court. In this case, Estona came forward and had five witnesses testify on her behalf.
“He caught her behind closed doors, anywhere she would go in private: to change or to the storage room. He was there harassing her,” Brown said. “Claimants such as this very rarely have the courage to come forward and go through the process to recover, which included testifying in a criminal proceeding. She’s typical in some ways, but exceptional in others.”
Prince of Petworth, a local blogger covering the NW quadrant, reported the closing of La Carbonara as early as May 17. There windows are now covered and the phone has been disconnected.