January 22, 2014 - 7:06 am
It’s enough to drive a successful Las Vegas nightclub operator to drink.
But after looking at another sexual harassment lawsuit aimed at the high-flying Light Group, LLC, hitting the bottle might not be the right answer.
The lawsuit was filed late last month by a Jane Doe plaintiff. Her name is being withheld because of privacy concerns and fear of retaliation, according to the complaint by her attorney, Donald Campbell.
It is the second lawsuit filed by Campbell on behalf of as yet unnamed former female employees of Light Group, which operates several successful nightclubs inside Strip resorts. The other lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, is focused on allegations of sexual harassment by Light Group vice president of entertainment Mustafa “Moose Diesel” Abdi and does not name owner Andrew Sasson as a defendant.
Sasson attorney David Chesnoff said in a statement: “The two lawsuits are completely separate. As for the one that names Mr. Sasson, we strongly contest the allegations and we will vigorously defend Andrew in court.”
The Sasson lawsuit again takes the company to task over the “longstanding and well-known reputation in the Las Vegas nightclub industry as a hotbed of sexual harassment, discrimination, and mistreatment of its female employees.” It goes on to remind the court that Sasson, co-owner Andy Masi and “multiple managerial employees” were sued and accused of sexual harassment in 2011.
The plaintiff worked as a table hostess. She asserts that sexual harassment, being forced to drink copious amounts of tequila with the boss, and working in an atmosphere in which management regularly used cocaine and other drugs wasn’t part of her official job description. It’s damning stuff.
In the filing, she describes multiple incidents in which she was forced to shoot tequila with Sasson. When she spat out the booze and splashed his shoes, the lawsuit alleges, he erupted in anger.
“Sasson immediately started screaming and cussing at Plaintiff for spilling tequila on his shoes,” it said. “He then threatened to have Plaintiff disciplined and terminated if she did not drink the rest of the bottle of tequila. After making this threat, Sasson pulled Plaintiff’s hair and jerked her head over the back of the booth so he could shove the bottle of tequila into her mouth. He then dumped the contents of the tequila bottle in Plaintiff’s mouth and all over her person. In doing so, Sasson pulled her hair so hard that he ripped a patch of Plaintiff’s hair out of her head and caused Plaintiff immense physical pain.”
Proving the allegations might be a challenge, but much is at stake for Sasson and the company. Although it’s unclear whether a sexual harassment lawsuit harms the reputation of a Vegas nightclub operator — a generation ago, such activity was pretty common throughout the casino industry — it figures to be costly and potentially ruinous for the company.
The more heat on Light Group, the more pressure on casino giants MGM Resorts International and others to focus more scrutiny on a highly lucrative piece of their operation.
And, of course, there’s always the chance that these recent lawsuits will lead to many more. If my experience is an accurate indicator, it almost certainly will.
Shortly after the first column was published, I received numerous calls and emails from persons identifying themselves as former Light Group employees. Most offered damning confirmation of the type of harassment claims contained in the lawsuit.
Whether the phone at Campbell & Williams has been ringing off the hook is uncertain. Campbell declined to comment.
With allegations of assault, battery, sexual harassment and drug use pending in two courts, those lawsuits had better be defended with vigor, or one day it could be last call for a major player in the local nightclub industry.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (702) 383-0295.