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Feds sue Medford restaurant for sexual harassment

A civil rights lawsuit filed by a federal agency accuses the owners of a south Medford restaurant of subjecting at least two employees to sexual abuse and harassment, even after a manager was charged and convicted on a criminal charge of harassing an employee.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against New China, Inc. earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Medford that alleges the restaurant engaged in “open and notorious” offensive conduct that included sexual comments and inappropriate touching against young female employees, including at least one minor.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday draws from two complaints filed with the EEOC and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which described a hostile work environment for female employees. The lawsuit describes repeated sexual comments and innuendos, inappropriate staring, video recording, and repeated unwanted physical contact.

The complaints included allegations that a restaurant manager repeatedly subjected young women to hugs, touching employees below their waist and rubbing his body up against female employees’ bodies “since at least July 2017.”

The complaints further alleged inappropriate touching beneath the women’s clothing, including a restaurant manager “putting his hand under a female employee’s shirt.”

In another case, the manager asked a 15-year-old employee to text him nude pictures of herself, according to a press release provided by the EEOC Wednesday.

The lawsuit accuses the restaurant of failing to “take prompt or corrective action ... despite female employees reporting the offensive and unwelcome sexual conduct, the conduct being witnessed by the assistant manager, and the manager being arrested at work for sexually assaulting a female employee.”

The manager, named in a BOLI complaint as Michael Li Gan, 45, of Medford, was arrested at the restaurant in November 2017 on misdemeanor charges of harassment and third-degree sexual abuse. Gan was sentenced to 11 months of probation and a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment in August 2018, Jackson County Circuit Court records show.

The EEOC alleges that despite the repeated employee complaints and the manager’s guilty plea, the restaurant failed to stop Gan’s behavior or discharge him.

“Instead, New China fired one female employee soon after she reported his inappropriate conduct, and another female employee felt she had no choice but to resign,” the release states.

According to the 2019 BOLI/EEOC complaint, the victim told investigators she was subjected to “unwanted touching” by Gan, and “perhaps videotaped by a cook.”

The woman reported the cook’s actions to an assistant manager in late June 2018, and was later let go, according to the complaint filed March 20, 2019. The restaurant told her it was a layoff because of a business slowdown.

The EEOC said it believes more New China restaurant employees may have been harassed, or witnessed harassment. Anyone with information is asked to contact the EEOC at 1-833-779-3986 or email NewChina@eeoc.gov.

The EEOC said it is seeking financial compensation for the victims and punitive damages against the restaurant owners, with the amounts to be determined at trial.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.