Four former employees of Vegan Nirvana in Huntington Beach filed suit in Orange County Superior Court earlier this month against the restaurant’s owners, alleging multiple counts of sexual harassment, wrongful termination, labor code violations, and that a hidden surveillance camera was placed in the women’s restroom.
“Vegan Nirvana attracts customers who value the lives of animals but the store’s management does not extend the same care to its female employees and customers,” states a June 12 news release sent out by attorneys Jerold Friedman and Scott Myer, who are representing the plaintiffs. “Plaintiffs, who are all vegan, allege, for example, that the spy camera filmed them partially and fully nude as they changed in/out of work clothes, and filmed minors including one plaintiff amounting to creating and possessing child porn. The complaint is attached.”
According to the 62-page lawsuit, the four plaintiffs–Britlyn Dale, Rebecca Rosenberg, Monique Ruiz, and Lila Zook–say that during their time of employment at Vegan Nirvana various managers and supervisors “frequently talked about sex, including through conversation, questions, jokes, and innuendo.” One of the plaintiffs, Zook, was 16 at the time she started working at Vegan Nirvana (she is an adult now). According to the lawsuit, one manager said “Man, she’s going to get me going to prison for underage reasons,” as Zook walked by.
Zook also alleged that in 2017, Don Nguyen, the restaurant’s general manager, asked her who gave her a hickey on her neck. After replying that her girlfriend had, Zook alleged that Nguyen “surprised [her] and grabbed her from the back of her neck, then forcefully pulled her back, and examined the hickey.” Zook further alleged in the lawsuit that she “attempted to remove herself from [Nguyen’s] grip but could not for several seconds because he held her firmly and pulled her off balance.”
Another plaintiff, Ruiz, alleges in the lawsuit that a Vegan Nirvana manager touched her “on her lower back, hips, waist and butt… an estimated twenty times total without RUIZ’s consent and for no business purpose.” Ruiz further alleges in the lawsuit that this manager would tell her “that he was attracted to her originally two to three times per shift and increasingly over time.” Ruiz, as do the other plaintiffs, allege in the lawsuit that they took complaints about these harassing behaviors to management, but nothing was done to stop the harassment. Instead, they allege, management retaliated against them. (This same manager, Dale alleges in the lawsuit, would ask her to “‘jump up and down’ so that he could watch her breasts move.”)
The lawsuit also alleges that two managers “installed and maintained a video spy camera in the sole women’s restroom” at Vegan Nirvana. This camera was “designed to look like an innocuous USB charger but clandestinely records on a continuous basis or when triggered by a motion detector,” states the lawsuit. The plaintiffs believe the managers “installed the spy camera in the women’s restroom because they targeted women for their sexual gratification and fantasies,” states the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs discovered the camera and alerted management, though one manager (who was alleged to have placed the camera there in the first place) allegedly tinkered with it. The lawsuit says the camera was eventually given to the Huntington Beach Police Department.
A call to Don Nguyen, Vegan Nirvana’s general manager, was not returned by press time.
“This illegal behavior alleged against Vegan Nirvana is extreme and must be stopped,” said Jerold Friedman, one of two attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “We hope this lawsuit will expose them for what they are alleged to be: two managers who exploit young and caring female employees and restaurant leadership who enables and endorses blatant and horrendous sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Click here to read the lawsuit.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.