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Three's Karma

garden city Former employees of the Garden City gaming parlor are suing management in three different actions, claiming sexual harassment doesn't go with the territory of any job.

By Cecily Barnes

AT GARDEN CITY, where dice roll, cards shuffle, and chips click- clak, ex-employee Linda Lanier claims a customer's rough grip and violent enthusiasm sent her to the hospital with bruises one night. Her appeal to management about the incident, she says, was met with ridicule and harasssing words.

"He (the manager) laughed and said, 'Well if I had a hold of you I wouldn't let go either,'" Lanier recalls. "If you got mad about something they would say, 'Oh, Linda stop; I don't have time for this.'"

Lanier worked at the Garden City card club, a voluminous greenish-brown building on the corner of Stevens Creek and Saratoga Ave., for eight years. And while winks, smiles and drink invitations may have once been de rigeur in a nightclub environment, Lanier's allegations and two other sexual harassment cases pending against Garden City reveal that times are changing --everywhere.

This month, club management finds itself defending against three separate sexual harassment suits brought by ex-employees over the last two years.

Affidavits filed with Santa Clara County's Superior Court allege that four managers at Garden City engaged in a laundry list of improper practices, including sexual harassment, discrimination, invasion of privacy, defamation, assault, battery, fraud, concealment and negligence. Each of the three suits was filed independently and named different managers as defendants.

If upheld, the allegations suggest that some managers at Garden City, the oldest gaming parlor in the Santa Clara Valley, not only ignored, but participated in the harassment of employees. The plaintiffs, two females and one male, described a scenario where managers not only scratched each others' backs but the unwilling backs of employees, too. Any appeals for relief, the plaintiffs allege, were either ignored or ridiculed.

LANIER WORKED at Garden City for nearly eight years as a food server and then a chip girl. She perceived the employees and management, initially, as one big family where "everyone knew each other [and] everyone pretty much socialized together." Lanier soon came to believe, however, that this relaxed familial atmosphere allowed for a lot more than socializing. At first the catcalls, propositions and uninvited advances came only from coworkers and customers. Later, Lanier contends, managers got in on the action.

Lanier states in her deposition that one evening she appealed to manager Mike Sakamoto (who is still employed at Garden City) after being repeatedly harassed by a coworker Sakamoto allegedly responded that she was just "too much of a woman" and that the co-worker was unable to help himself. Lanier says she also complained to managers about harassment by a customer.

"They were all three standing right there in front of me as they discussed it," Lanier recalled. "And they said, 'Well, he's one of our regular customers so we can't kick him out of here.'"

Lanier left her position at Garden City a few months later. She returned a short time later, she says, out of financial necessity and hoped that conditions had improved. But, she now alleges, the work environment had detriorated further. Lanier claims that on one occasion she was thrown against the wall and spanked by one of the dealers. When she complained to manager Rick Bell, he allegedly "made fun" of her. Five months after the alleged incident, Lanier resigned from Garden City and filed her lawsuit.

Randy Kirham worked as a security guard at Garden City, but quit after eight months of what he claims was consistent sexual harassment by his male boss. Kirkham charges he had to fend off continual unwanted advances, and that he was labeled his supervisor's "boy" by coworkers in the casino.

"One night [he] told me he called out my name while having sex with another guy," Kirkham charged in a written complaint. "[He] waited for my shift to be over and then demanded hugs from me."

Kirkham said he brought his grievances to Garden City Management and Compliance Director Mike Farnham. When, the suit contends, top management failed to take action, Kirkham filed an official complaint through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). "Because of the harassment, retaliation and management's failure to respond effectively," Kirkham's statement reads, "I had to take a leave of absence on Aug. 28, 1995, and I could not return to work at Garden City."

Vanya Davidson, previously a Garden City chip girl, is the plaintiff in the third case. Unlike the others, Davidson did not attempt to resolve her grievances with management before filing suit. "I didn't because I figured they'd fire me," she told Metro.

OF THE SIX named defendants, only Sakamoto and Chris Martin, another manager, still hold their management positions at Garden City. It appears Garden City is trying to settle the suits before they get to trial. According to Kirkham's attorney Michael Bewley, "there are currently attempts at resolution." Garden City's spokesperson, Nancy Williams, denies settlement offers have been made, at least, "not that we're aware of," she says. But in a letter obtained by Metro, dated Aug. 29 of this year, addressed to Lexie Schroeder (at the time representing both Lanier and Davidson), Superior National Insurance Company stated in writing that its client, Garden City, "is offering $50,000 on the Davidson case and $90,000 on the Lanier case." The offer, which was extended until 3pm the following day, was rejected by both of the women.

Lanier, Kirkham and Davidson describe Garden City Casino as a place where management ignores employee complaints, looks the other way when high-roller customers engage in outlandish actions (such as grabbing and propositioning women), and sits around drinking and harassing both customers and employees. .

But club spokeswoman Williams paints a much different picture. "Garden City has a strong written policy on sexual harassment," she says. "We have a human resource manager to deal with these complaints, and all of the managers have been through a training." Williams adds that with an employee base of 600 people, most are satisfied with the way things are run.

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro

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