Feds sue NYC pawnbroker, say women there called 'whipping slaves'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York pawn shop chain, whose owner was accused of calling female employees his “whipping slaves” and promising “to make babies with all” of them, was sued for harassment on Thursday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit against Seapod Pawnbrokers, with stores in Brooklyn and Queens, said five of the women were fired after they complained that owner Frank Morea regularly spewed racial and sexual epithets at them.

The legal action, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, seeks their reinstatement with back pay and penalties to be decided at trial.

Morea, 48, was also accused of disparaging African-American customers, referring to them as “black bastards” and saying the store smelled because “the monkeys are coming in,” the lawsuit said.

On a regular basis from 2009 until the present, Morea is accused of calling the female employees “my Seapod bitches” and asking for graphic details about how they used tampons.

He threatened them with physical violence and termination, ordered them to “bend over so that he could ogle them from behind... rub his belly, and change the bed sheets in a bedroom attached to one of the pawn shops,” the lawsuit said.

Morea, also known as “Fat Frank,” a convicted fence who in 2005 admitted selling jewelry stolen by gang members, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We see no evidence that he excluded any of the women from harassment,” said EEOC lawyer Thomas Lepak, noting about 40 women, most of them Hispanic, worked in the chain’s seven shops but that so far only five of them had come forward in the lawsuit.

Lepak said when Morea was not in the store, the women enjoyed their jobs.

But there was double trouble when his father, Ralph Morea, frequented the stores and blamed the world’s problems on “the biracial,” the lawsuit said. It said Morea refused to stop his father from making the offensive comments.

“Mistreating, insulting and punishing people simply because of their ethnicity or gender cannot be condoned or tolerated in the 21st century,” said EEOC attorney Robert Rose in a statement.

“The EEOC will take swift and firm action when vulnerable workers are targeted for abuse and harassment. We also will move quickly to enforce the law when workers are fired simply for taking steps to stop such abuse,” he said.

Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Eric Walsh