May 13, 2011 / 2:03 AM / 8 years ago

Bartenders sue nightclub guru for sexual harassment

NEW YORK (Reuters) - He has been called one of the “new kings of New York nightlife” by Forbes magazine, with celebrities flocking to his restaurants and clubs.

But now four female employees of Mark Birnbaum, are calling him a sexual predator.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in New York Supreme Court, the employees detailed allegations of physical attacks by Birnbaum, an owner of Tenjune and Simyone Lounge. The clubs have drawn stars such as Jay-Z, Sean Penn and Penelope Cruz to their trendy environs.

“We categorically deny all the allegations; all these individuals are still currently working for the company and have been for years,” Birnbaum’s attorney, Peter Toumbekis, said in a statement.

But Eric Baum, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said three of the women have been afraid to return to work “until they are assured that Birnbaum cannot return to the lounges under any circumstances.”

The fourth is still on the job, Baum said, but she “is very anxious and upset about retaliation and continuing harassment.”

The women — Emily Girvin, Kayci Rothweiler, Elliott Sailors and Renee Furini — alleged the attacks began shortly after they began working as bartenders at the clubs.

The lawsuit accused Birnbaum of making unwelcome sexual advances and requesting sexual favors from the women. His alleged conduct “took a turn for the worse” on April 29, during an incident at Simyone.

Birnbaum lured Girvin and Rothweiler away from the main lounge and into a stairwell, away from security cameras, according to the complaint. He allegedly shut the door and ordered one woman to remove her top and expose her breasts, and told the other woman to “strip down” and expose her buttocks.

The lawsuit said Birnbaum also exposed himself to the women. When Girvin tried to leave, Birnbaum allegedly blocked her way, forcibly kissed her and pinned her down, forcing her to touch his genitals, the complaint says.

Birnbaum is a partner in EMM Group, a lifestyle-management company that specializes in restaurants and nightlife operations, according to the lawsuit. EMM is named as a defendant in the complaint, along with One Group, a hospitality company. Both are partial owners of Tenjune, according to the complaint.

Reporting by Jennifer Golson; Editing by Greg McCune

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