It’s one jaw dropping workplace assault and harassment case after another surfacing lately. Tough enough to hear about the lifelong scars endured by so many, especially women. But, when it’s kids who are the victims, female <em>or</em> male, it’s a whole different level of disturbing. So, if the allegations against one Northeast Ohio fast food store manager are true, the outrage is bound to ripple through the country, especially among teens who are just trying to make an extra buck, not to mention their parents.
“Mr. Scimonelli also approached [teenage employee] from behind, grabbing her hips and rubbing his pelvic region against her buttocks.” That’s just the beginning of what’s contained in the eighteen-page complaint just filed in Summit County Common Pleas court against the regional head guy at a so-called “gourmet fast-food restaurant,” Burgerfi. Michael Scimonelli, 28 years old, is accused of that kind of behavior on a frequent basis by six plaintiffs, five are young women, some underage at the time of the alleged incidents, and one is a young, openly gay man.
The manager, originally from Florida, began working for the Florida based chain a few years ago. It was just more than a year ago he was transferred north to manage both the Mentor and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio stores.
I went to the office of his Willoughby, Ohio apartment complex looking for comment from him. While the worker couldn’t give me his unit number as per policy, she did call him for me.
“Hi Michael, there’s a reporter here who wants to talk to you about some sort of lawsuit, do you want me to send her to you?”
“Okay then, I’ll tell her, thank you,” she hangs up.
“He says no, no, no, he can’t talk about it, it’s something to do with work.”
Practically every plaintiff accuses Scimonelli of often “brushing his hands against her breasts as he was walking past her.” He’s also cited as making comments such as he would like to “bend them over a table and f— them,” also, according to the complaint, during closed door meetings with his female subordinates, he “was also known to unbutton and drop his pants—ostensibly for the purpose of tucking in his shirt.”
The accusations get worse the further you read though the complaint, as a sixteen-year-old alleges he “pushed [her] against a wall, physically turned her around, pulled her by her ponytail and put his hand/forearm into the small of her back…raised his hand as if he was going to hit her.”
Turns out, Scimonelli is no stranger to assault charges. His mug shot is easy to find as he was arrested in his native Florida for aggravated battery against a woman he allegedly knew to be pregnant before he was transferred to run the Ohio locations. The complaint even cites that “he boasted to others at BurgerFi that he “roughed” this young lady up “a little bit.”
It’s all quite a different from the initial image you find of him on his Facebook page, often pictured with a woman who appears to be a loving girlfriend, perhaps the girlfriend his accusers say he talked about in detailing a sex life involving “bondage,” according to the complaint. The words “LOVE EACH OTHER” are scribbled on his profile picture, but scroll down a bit and one of his first posts reads, “FEAR IS FOR OTHERS.”
Scimonelli isn’t facing the accusations alone, though. His supervisor, Richard Forrest, and the BurgerFi corporation are also named in the complaint as some of the plaintiffs claim they did turn to upper management looking for relief, but heard nothing back. I’m told it was just recently Scimonelli was put on leave.
I reached out to Forrest for any comment on his or the company’s behalf, and left a message with the company’s legal counsel, but have yet to receive a response.
Burgerfi began in Florida in 2011. On its website, it boasts about quickly growing to 100 stores nationwide, it’s high quality food and service, and about the many honors it’s received.
Now, it’s the company’s turn to respond to what could be a public relations nightmare before the case goes on to the courts, with counts ranging from hostile work environment to assault and battery.
While you can only imagine these young people would rather do anything but have to spend, most likely, years of their lives dealing with a lawsuit, their decision to do so says a great deal about their courage, as well as the effect of the resounding message in our country regarding what kind of behavior is simply no longer going to be tolerated—no matter how old you are or where you come from.