Saddle Ranch Chop House employees drop sexual harassment suit

A little more than a month after filing the case, six former employees of the Saddle Ranch Chop House restaurant in West Hollywood have dropped their lawsuit alleging they were subjected to sexual harassment by an assistant general manager, with one plaintiff additionally claiming he was falsely accused of threatening to poison a customer.

Attorneys for plaintiffs Reed Fraga, Tristan Campbell, Josh Canady, Zane Haney, Sean Stanton and Travis Weaver court papers on Friday asking Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin to dismiss the case. The court papers did not state if a settlement was reached or if the six were not pursuing the case for other reasons.

The plaintiffs sued on March 30, alleging sex harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment and retaliation, wrongful termination, negligent retention of an unfit employee, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.

The suit described the Sunset Strip Saddle Ranch restaurant as a “destination” spot for social media influencers and TikTok stars that also boasts a “self-proclaimed rock-meets-Western style” featuring stone campfire pits, an extensive bar area and the only mechanical bull in the Los Angeles area.

“The restaurant has a reputation for hiring attractive staff and catering to hard-partying, raucous young patrons,” according to the suit, which further stated that wait times to be seated often are more than an hour.

Assistant General Manager Defendant Winston “Kuron” Chandler, a 12- year Saddle Ranch veteran and co-defendant in the suit, “abused his managerial authority by sexually harassing male bartenders, hosts, servers and other employees,” the suit stated. “He took advantage of a tight, high-traffic space behind the bar, as well as in dry storage and elsewhere, to grope, slap and fondle male employees on a daily basis.”

Chandler “perpetrated this harassment on a string of young staff members, both straight and gay, often in the presence of other managers who did nothing to stop him,” the suit stated.

Canady was hired as a bartender in February 2021 and Chandler often rubbed up against Canady’s buttocks in the narrow bar area, the suit stated.

Chandler was undeterred by Canady’s advice that he should be more careful about his behavior with the plaintiff and other employees or he could get in trouble, the suit stated. All of the plaintiffs except Fraga resigned in May 2021 due in part to the “harassing and abusive atmosphere,” the suit stated.

Fraga, who was hired last July, “observed almost immediately that Saddle Ranch was poorly run, with almost no attention paid to comply with basic workplace laws regarding food hygiene and/or proper meal and rest breaks,” the alleged suit.

About a week into his employment, Fraga was depositing his evening’s earnings in a safe in a narrow hallway when Chandler grabbed the plaintiff’s buttocks, the suit alleged.

Fraga was “shocked and in disbelief,” but he continued walking, hoping that the unwelcome contact was “somehow a mistake,” the suit stated.

However, Chandler continued his harassment the next week, inappropriately touching Fraga’s private parts, the suit alleged. Fraga feared he would be fired if he complained about the harassment, but still felt he needed to do something. He wrote an email to management last August 2021 chronicling Chandler’s alleged misconduct and gave management an in-person account of his experiences, the suit stated.

“Saddle Ranch claimed to open an investigation and suspended Chandler while it was pending,” the suit stated.

However, Fraga was subjected to retaliation and unfair criticism of his work, the suit states. A lawyer who contacted him and said she’d been hired to conduct an independent investigation into his claims against Chandler told the plaintiff as he was about to leave their interview, “We heard that you to poison a customer. You need to go home tonight,” the suit stated.

“Fraga was shocked at the allegation,” according to the suit, which further stated that the plaintiff told the attorney that he had “simply recounted an anecdote about a rumor he had heard that bartenders at another West Hollywood bar would put (eye drop product) ) Visine in the drinks of rude customers.”

Fraga “adamantly denied threatening to poison anyone,” the suit stated.

However Fraga was suspended for 10 days and then fired last Sept. 11 on a false claim that he had threatened to poison a customer and that his action had been witnessed by other Saddle Ranch employees, the suit stated.

All six plaintiffs suffered substantial losses in earnings and employment benefits and continue to suffer emotional distress, according to the suit.

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