July 19, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

Former Waitress at Beverly Hills Restaurant Testifies in Sexual Harassment Suit

Westside Today latest crime and courts news. Thinkstock
Westside Today latest crime and courts news. Thinkstock

A young woman who alleges she was forced to quit as a server at an eatery owned by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump and her husband, Ken Todd, broke down in court on June 4 as she told a jury why she filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by her former boss.

Karina Bustillos, who glared at Todd and her ex-supervisor, Villa Blanca assistant manager Michael Govia, testified that she was not seeking $5 million as was stated in a defense attorney’s opening statement in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial of her lawsuit.

She said she was instead standing up for herself as well as for other women in similar situations who are afraid to speak up against their alleged harassers.

“Just because you’re famous and wealthy … you cannot hide the truth to save your image,” Bustillos said. “I want you guys to know that.”

Bustillos said many women say little against their harassers because they want to keep their jobs.

“I think they don’t stand up because they’re scared to do what is right,” she said. “It’s so hard to get a job right now. I’m so tired of people having to go through that. Women should not be assaulted or touched.”

Bustillos worked at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills for about 14 months before quitting in September 2012. She alleges the eatery violated its own policies against sexual harassment by not doing anything to punish Govia for his alleged misconduct.

Defense attorneys deny any wrongdoing on the part of Govia and say the restaurant’s general manager, Andrew Morrison, listened to Bustillo’s complaints and did a thorough investigation.

Bustillos maintains the most serious incidents occurred in April 2012, when Govia allegedly tried to kiss her at work, and four months later, when she maintains he grabbed her wrists and twisted them. She said he had taken hold of her wrists about 10 times before, but that this incident was the most serious.

She said she begged Govia to release her wrists, but he replied, “I’m the manager and I can do whatever I want.”

Bustillos said Govia appeared to be “on a power trip” and that the incident came off to him as “playful,” while she considered it an “assault” of the type strictly forbidden by the restaurant’s employee code of conduct.

She claimed it was one of many ways in which the establishment was ignoring its own policy.

Bustillos said Morrison allowed her to miss two shifts so she would not have to work those days with Govia, but Todd refused her request to be compensated for her lost wages.

She testified she was frustrated with the way management was handling her concerns and ultimately felt “defeated, demeaned and degraded because I stood up for myself and said something” to try and change the work atmosphere at Villa Blanca for female employees.

But management never fully followed up on her complaints or provided possible internal security video of the August 2012 incident, she said.

Morrison told her the restaurant owners “have the power to spin the truth and the facts,” Bustillos claimed.

“I felt like I’m the one having to suffer, I’m having to sacrifice,” she said. “Because I’m a woman, he (Govia) felt he could dominate.”

Govia would not have done similar things to male employees because “they would have knocked him out,” Bustillos said, telling the jury that she left Villa Blanca because she could not bear the conditions there any longer.

She said she also believed that some employees were loyal to management because they had appeared on the “Housewives” television show. She said she avoided trying to be on camera.

Bustillos said she has worked at a number of other restaurants since leaving Villa Blanca, including Mercado in Santa Monica and Red O and Hinoki & The Bird, both in Los Angeles. However, she said she has not earned as much in those locations compared to the $800 to $900 a week she took home in weekly wages and tips from Villa Blanca.

A male server later told her that Govia had referred to her with two epithets commonly considered the most degrading ways to refer to a woman, Bustillos said. She said she believed Govia made the remarks in retaliation for her complaint to Morrison about her boss’ behavior toward her.

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