UPDATE - June 9, 2020: According to the Harris County District Clerk's office, the parties named in this lawsuit agreed on April 22, 2019, to dismiss all charges with prejudice, meaning the case has been dropped permanently.
A lawsuit filed in February 2018 by a former server at Peli Peli in the Galleria alleges the restaurant's executive chef and co-owner Paul Friedman "drunkenly sexually assaulted and harassed" her in front of witnesses. Eater first reported the story.
According to the suit filed against the restaurant chain by Madeline Mirza, Friedman was dining June 4, 2017, at Peli Peli with his date and her son, when he called Mirza over to the table. Allegedly, he hugged Mirza twice, kissed her on the cheek, and slid his hand down her back. Mirza said she informed her manager, David Bradley, who allegedly said little could be done, since Friedman was the executive chef. Another manager, Colton Foster, reported the incident to human resources, according to Mirza.
On June 6, 2017, the complaint continues, Mirza spoke with human resources. Two days later, it alleges, Mirza was asked to speak with Friedman while he was drinking. Foster was also at the table with Friedman, who apologized while "smiling and joking," Mirza said. In the days that followed, the complaint alleges, Friedman watched Mirza as she worked and talked about her to managers in private.
Then in July, a transfer originally approved for Mirza to Peli Peli's Katy location was denied, per the lawsuit. Mirza resigned, also citing human resources' inability to assist her, claiming they "blew her off, absurdly claiming that she had no evidence; that it was just her word against Friedman's word; and that her word was unreliable."
Mirza seeks relief for damages including but not limited to back pay, reinstatement, and compensatory damages, plus emotional stress and punitive damages.
In April, Peli Peli and its attorneys denied the allegation, saying the restaurant had "exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior." Further, according to the response, Peli Peli argued that Mirza "consented to contact, specifically a hug," denying any other contact.
Reached for comment Friday, Peli Peli co-owner and chief marketing office Thomas Nguyen said the matter is "unfortunate."
"It's a lose-lose for us," he said. "In the court of public opinion, people are going to draw conclusions, people are going to assume the worst. These allegations are very serious, and there's a whole movement behind it and I get it, thankfully. But people are going to draw conclusions and when the facts come out, it's going to be too late anyway."
Nguyen said Peli Peli, which has been around for 10 years, employs women in leadership positions and prides itself "on creating an environment that encourages and develops men and women, people of all walks of life."
Friedman's role hasn't changed since the lawsuit was filed. He remains executive chef, focusing primarily on menu development and overseeing staff training. "He's doing what he's been doing for the last 10 years," Nguyen said.
The case is set to go in front of a judge this April.