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Cook Sues Aramark For Sex Harassment

By Daniel C.Stevenson
Editor in Chief

A former cook at MIT is suing the Institute's food service provider, Aramark, for $2 million for sexual harassment and infliction of emotional distress.

Last month, a U.S. District Court judge declined Aramark's request for dismissal, and agreed to hear the case.

The employee, Charles Messina, worked in the Student Center for Aramark from 1988 until November 1993, when he quit following several incidents of harassment from two other Aramark employees, D. David Dannells and John Fell.

Messina, who is gay, claims among other charges that Dannells made offensive physical and verbal references mocking Messina's sexual orientation, at times grabbing his crotch and directing Messina to "blow" him, referring to Messina as "Chucky sucky," and making limp-wrist gestures and talking to Messina with exaggerated lisps.

Dannells was an executive chef at the time of the incidents and a supervisor, but not the direct supervisor, of Messina. Dannells has since been promoted to assistant manager of food services.

Aramark General Manager Robert McBurney declined to comment on the case while litigation is pending.

Judge dismisses part of case

On Oct. 12 District Court Judge Morris E. Lasker decided against dismissing the entire case, but did summarily dismiss the charges concerning Fell. The judge decided to dismiss those charges because Aramark made a "prompt and appropriate" response to Messina's complaints against Fell, who held the same position as Messina at the time. The original suit was filed April 1, 1994.

Messina is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, attorney's fees, and punitive damages for a total of $2 million.

Messina brought the suit against Aramark (a part of Araserve, Inc. formerly known as ARA) because "he feels that he was treated horribly by ARA as well as by Mr. Dannells," said WilliamJ. McLeod, Messina's attorney.

"He feels that ARA was not responsive to his complaint. He also wants to make sure that it doesn't happen again to other people, whether it be at ARA or elsewhere."

Attorneys for Aramark could not be reached for comment.

The case will probably come to trial in the spring, McLeod said.

"Based upon the evidence that was presented" a decision in favor of Messina seems likely, McLeod said. "I would find it incredibly difficult to believe that Mr. Messina was not harassed and that the harassment was not offensive."

Dannells' harassment of Messina was all done in the presence of co-workers and sometimes management who did nothing to stop this conduct, according to the lawsuit.

In one instance, Dannells allegedly stated on a loud speaker, in a sexually suggestive manner, "Chuck -- this is the Chef. I want you."

In mid-October 1993, Messina asked for a transfer to another work area, but was told he couldn't transfer out of Dannells' area and still work the same number of hours.

Messina quit on Nov. 5, 1993.