Club Sued Over Gramps Groper
The University Club, a bastion for bluebloods, power studs and A-list celebs, has a "serial sexual molester" on its staff who gropes banquet waitresses during classy parties and ritzy weddings, a lawsuit charges.
The complaints of sexual assault, including grabbing breasts and fondling bodies, have prompted the Manhattan DA to investigate the club's 71-year-old banquet manager who, according to three waitresses and their lawyer, tried to run a sex-for-shifts operation.
The women claim the manager would manhandle them and ask for sex and, in return for their silence, reward them with more hours and assignments that reaped bigger tips.
If they didn't tolerate his advances, they lost hours or worked lesser-paying events, they said.
The women joined together last week to sue the club, housed in an Italian Renaissance-style palace built in 1899 at 54th and Fifth Avenue.
In their lawsuit, the waitresses claim the banquet manager asked them to go to a hotel for sex and repeatedly tried forcing himself on them when no one was watching in the club's elevators and coatrooms.
The 5-foot-5 manager, Melquisedec "Mel" Guzman, allegedly used his power to assign shifts to punish and reward the three Latina mothers.
Their lawyer, Joshua Friedman, said all three women say they lost choice assignments because they refused invitations to have sex with Guzman.
"He's a psycho-swine . . . sad and disgusting," said Marilyn Rivas, 25, who has worked at the club as a banquet server since 1997.
She claims Guzman began propositioning her in 2004, and started groping her earlier this year.
Another victim, claims Guzman "tried to kiss and touch me" in elevators and conference rooms.
Last week, the victim and the other two women - along with a fourth woman, server Ruth Cueva, who plans to join the lawsuit - went with Friedman to the Manhattan prosecutor's office.
Friedman said prosecutors wired the victim with a microphone and tiny camera and sent her to tape a conversation with Guzman at the club Thursday.
Neither the prosecutor nor Guzman, whose family said he was in the hospital, could be reached.
Friedman said a Manhattan judge last week granted a request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Guzman from touching the women or talking about sex.
The judge also ordered the club not to suspend the women or reduce their work hours in retaliation for suing, Friedman said.
The suit seeks unspecified damages. Friedman said the club "never trained its most vulnerable workers about their rights" or where to get help if they were sexually harassed.
Club President K. Jeffries Sydness yesterday declined to comment. John Dorman, the club's general manager, said it is policy not to comment on any matter relating to the club.
Within the club's star-studded corridors, Guzman operated with impunity, the women say.
Gladys Villanueve, 35, said she is suing to get justice and "put this guy in his place."