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Cafe staffers fired; they cite 'inappropriate, cleavage-revealing and tight' T-shirts

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 17. 2018 9:30PM
Two former employees at Audrey's Cafe on Route 101 in Marlborough say they were fired for refusing to wear uniforms they considered tight and skimpy. (DAMIEN FISHER/Correspondent)

MARLBOROUGH — Two employees at Audrey’s Cafe, a Monadnock-area landmark, claim in a federal lawsuit the new owners wanted to replace them with younger staff when they complained about being asked to wear “inappropriate, cleavage-revealing and tight” T-shirts.

Stephanie Plante of Swanzey and Karen Berthiaume of Winchester jointly filed an age discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Concord.

Plante was 42 and Berthiaume was 67 on March 9, 2015 when they say they were fired for complaining about their treatment. Malaise Lindenfeld, who leads the popular eatery’s new leadership team, maintains in her response to the lawsuit that the pair were fired for poor job performance.

According to court documents, Lindenfeld told Doug Shackett, the prior owner of the cafe, and Plante that Audrey’s Cafe needed to hire “better looking” wait staff, and the then-current staff was “too busty.” One of the servers “had ugly lips” and “looked like she was smelling a bad fart all day,” the lawsuit states.

“Lindenfeld made the comment because the server often looked unhappy and she was concerned that this would negatively impact her customers,” Lindenfeld’s response states. Lindenfeld said she was using what is a common phrase in her native country of Venezuela.

The lawsuit was filed in February, and is currently scheduled for a 2019 trial.

When she first bought the business from Shackett in 2013, Lindenfeld was emphatic she wanted Plante — who had been working as a waitress at Audrey’s for more than 20 years — to be part of the business going forward, according to the lawsuit.

“Lindenfeld claimed that she wanted Plante to stay on as Assistant Manager, and Doug Shackett (as) Case Manager, stating that Shackett and Plante were ‘the faces of Audrey’s’ and she loved it the way it was, so Plante agreed to stay on under the new management and did not seek alternative employment,” the lawsuit states.

That soon changed as Lindenfeld allegedly sought staffers to be “eye candy,” according to the lawsuit. In January 2015, new junior-sized T-Shirts arrived for the staff to wear as uniforms.

“The female servers, including the plaintiffs, felt uncomfortable in the shirts, and plaintiffs and the staff expressed that they were not appropriate because the shirts’ junior cut revealed cleavage and were tight across their breasts and they were so skimpy that they rode up to reveal bare skin during lifting and reaching and were especially inappropriate for mature, older women,” the lawsuit states.

Shackett was upset by the uniforms, according to the lawsuit, saying it showed Lindenfeld and business partner Ann Connor’s desire to change over the existing staff.

“Shackett was concerned that some staff, including the plaintiffs, were being discriminated against because he had been repeatedly told by Lindenfeld and Connor that they wanted to hire ‘better-looking women’ that he concluded meant ‘younger women’ and the desire for ‘younger, more hip women’ was exemplified by the junior cut T-shirts,” the lawsuit states.

Shackett attempted to buy new, less revealing shirts, but Lindenfeld intervened and laid down the mandate that staff would have to wear the original shirts or be fired, according to the lawsuit. Shackett then reportedly showed Plante the portion of the company handbook that indicate Plante and Berthiaume, who was hired in November 2013, were being discriminated against.

Lindenfeld followed up their firing by barring the women from Audrey’s as well as her other Marlborough businesses — Piedra Fina restaurant, Mother’s Hardware, and Assembly Creamery.

Plante claims that when she got a new job in Keene, Lindenfeld sent a friend to her place of employment to harass her. Lindenfeld denies this.

Jury selection is scheduled to start next May before Judge Andrea Johnstone.

Union Leader Correspondent Damien Fisher contributed to this report.

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