The parent company of Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Maryland has requested a federal court to dismiss a harassment lawsuit brought against the property by a former employee.
Nevada-based Golden Entertainment, a casino operator and slot machine route distributor, wants to sell its Maryland casino property. In August, the gaming firm announced its intent to sell Rocky Gap for $260 million to VICI Properties and Century Casinos.
Expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, Golden Entertainment hopes to wrap up a lingering sexual harassment lawsuit before the transaction is finalized.
In a motion for summary judgment filed with Maryland’s US District Court, attorneys for the company said an internal investigation concluded that the former employee’s lawsuit had no merit and should be dismissed. The action was brought against Golden Entertainment by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“No genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to any of Plaintiff’s claims, and Defendant is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” argued attorneys Dana Salmonson and Robert Niccolini on behalf of Golden Entertainment.
Claims Allegedly Unfounded
In September 2020, the EEOC filed a federal lawsuit against Golden Entertainment. The action started after fielding a complaint from a female who was formerly a bartender at the casino. She told the federal agency that her sexual misconduct report made to her superiors wasn’t handled properly.
The woman — Lisa Payton — alleged that a male colleague regularly touched her and made inappropriate comments toward her while on the job. After voicing complaints, Payton says she was reassigned to a less-trafficked bar that negatively impacted her income by way of fewer tips.
“Federal law requires employers to address sexual harassment complaints promptly and appropriately, especially when the harassment includes physical assault,” Debra Lawrence, EEOC’s regional attorney, said in 2020 court filings. “Retaliation by transferring a worker because she complained only makes the situation worse.”
Golden Entertainment says Payton’s harassment claims were falsified. In the casino’s motion for dismissal dated Sept. 30, 2022, the company says the plaintiff’s arguments lack evidentiary weight.
A review of the undisputed facts and record evidence clearly establishes that Plaintiff is unable to state a legally sufficient claim for sexual harassment or retaliation under any legal theory,” the casino contended.
Rocky Gap says the fellow bartender accused of acting inappropriately with Payton denied such allegations. The casino says management nonetheless separated the two from working together amid an internal probe of the complaint.
Golden Entertainment said the internal review, which included witness interviews and video surveillance reviews, “did not corroborate Payton’s complaint of harassment.”
Union Sides with Casino
Rocky Gap officials say after informing Payton of the review’s findings, the casino told her she could further pursue her alleged grievances with her union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 27. The trade group, which represents the majority of non-gaming workers at the casino, opted to forego continuing Payton’s legal complaint.
The casino said rescheduling Payton to a different bar was based on seniority, not her complaint.
The property also alleges that Payton, in her resignation email dated Sept. 22, 2017, said she was no longer able to make it to work on time and therefore would be quitting. Three years later, Payton and the EEOC brought the employment harassment suit against Golden Entertainment.
Finally, the casino says both bars are in high-traffic areas. The On the Rocks bar is in the center of the casino floor, while A Little Munch is at the entrance to the casino floor by the resort’s main lobby. A Little Munch has since been replaced by the casino’s sports lounge.
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