New national report on sexual assault boosted by Topgolf LV cases

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LAS VEGAS (KTNV) – Time has not healed the wounds of former Topgolf employee Ciara Williams.

“I struggled with this – to get through this – every day,” Ciara said in tears. “There were days when I just wanted to … give up.”

Her former kitchen manager, Silvino Hinojosa, pleaded guilty in August to attempted sexual assault against Ciara and another former Topgolf Las Vegas subordinate.

“It started off by brushing against me to touch me, which led to the assault that occurred.”

Assault in the freezer room of the restaurant.

“It was just like I froze then.”

With the support of a colleague, as detailed in a lawsuit she later filed, Ciara reported the assault to human resources.

“I made a written report for them and asked them if I should go to the hospital for a rape examination or if I should contact the police and they told me I didn’t need to do it. – that they would take care of this for me. “

She took time off but says nothing has changed when she returns.

“Was he still your boss?” asked 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.

“Yes,” Ciara said. “He was. He was actually promoted to sous chef a few months later, so that made him my direct boss who I would turn to for everything in the kitchen. It made me feel like I was. was nothing. It made me feel like I just didn’t matter. “

It made him feel like he had broken up.

“They saw me as another minority who would be too afraid to speak up or try to do anything about it.”

Ciara and three other former employees of Topgolf Las Vegas have filed two separate federal lawsuits, both calling Hinojosa a “serial sexual predator …” and assaulting them. “

And that “Topgolf accepted, allowed and covered the predatory conduct of Hinojosa”.

“It was part of the accepted culture in the kitchen and the organization because the things he did he did openly,” said attorney James Lee, who represents Ciara and the other plaintiffs.

Despite numerous written complaints, the lawsuits indicate that Hinojosa was not fired until the employees handed over the helm of Topgolf to MGM, the owner of the company.

Ciara thinks, “They’d rather stay silent than try to solve the problems inside.”

She hopes to hold other victims accountable by publicly sharing the devastating details of her assault at Topgolf.

She has discovered that she and her colleagues in Las Vegas are not alone.

“This shockingly reflects the experience of workers in Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina …” said JoEllen Chernow of Survivors Know, who worked on this report, entitled Stopgolf, which the nonprofit released in December.

It is based on pleadings from 12 court cases against Topgolf – including two in 2021 alone – as well as surveys, polls and interviews with 72 workers from 28 Topgolf sites in 15 states “about their experiences of sexual harassment, aggression and discrimination, ”Chernow explains.

The main conclusions of the report:

  • 63% of women said they had been harassed and / or sexually assaulted while working at Topgolf
  • 100% of Black, Indigenous and / or Latin / Hispanic women under 50 reported being sexually harassed
  • 50% of women of color under 50 report being sexually assaulted

Samantha Velasquez-Knowles is one of them and was featured in the report.

“My dream was to be a chef since I was little,” explains Samantha.

She worked at Topgolf Las Vegas at the same time as Ciara Williams and tells a similar story about another chef.

“I was getting all my things from the walk-in closet and my back was towards the door and I felt someone grab my butt and kiss my neck from behind, and when I turned around it was my kitchen manager. I was completely shocked and terrified, and I was thinking in my head if I said, what’s going to happen? “

According to the report, someone else saw what happened and reported it to human resources.

Samantha too.

“They said they were going to do an investigation. I told her (the HR manager) everything that had happened. And the only option she gave me was to work downstairs, this who was to be demoted. “

Soon after, Samantha was fired, which she believes was retaliation for coming out against a superior.

“I just felt like I wasn’t respected. I was dehumanized. They didn’t see me as an equal.”

According to the Stopgolf report, “Of survey respondents who were sexually assaulted, 86% reported it; 100% of these workers say they have suffered reprisals as a result. “

“I think Topgolf has a really good opportunity for a change,” Chernow said. “They have over 20,000 employees, they are growing, they have sites all over the country and they have the opportunity to be truly on the front line in changing the way the restaurant industry works by putting workers first. plan and changing the culture. But like it is to say I don’t think it will happen without significant pressure. “

Survivors Know hopes their report will generate pressure from customers and investors.

“What response have you received from Topgolf since you published your report? Spears asked.

“Nothing,” Chernow said.

13 Investigators contacted Topgolf for comment.

For now, we can show you what they said in court before settling the lawsuit.

It highlights a little-known law in Nevada.

“Topgolf and all the defendants who face sexual harassment cases in Nevada mean – and have succeeded in some cases by saying – that it is a work-related accident,” says attorney James Lee.

Before the settlements, Topgolf tried to have the two lawsuits partially dismissed, saying it was not a case for the courts, but for the workers.

In court documents, Topgolf said that Ciara and the other victims “… would not have been sexually assaulted without their jobs at Topgolf LV, and that they were at much greater risk of assault than the general public by reason for this job. “

“It is not an injury at work! If we consider it or can be defined as this, we should not tolerate it as a society!” Lee exclaimed.

And he’s counting on Nevada lawmakers to change that.

“What we are asking the legislature is to change the law to simply say that workers’ compensation does not apply to sexual harassment. Full stop. Sexual harassment is not an accident and it is. is not the type of injury that workers’ compensation is designed to compensate for. “

Changing the law would align Nevada with California, Oregon, Washington, and a number of other states.

As this plays out, Ciara, Samantha and Survivors Know will continue to speak out.

“Even when your voice is shaking, you just have to keep believing in your truth and speaking your truth,” Ciara said. “It may seem like we are not being heard, but there is someone over there listening.”

Survivors know calls on Topgolf to work with them and the growing number of current and former employees who have signed petitions and want to create change.

Click here to view the petition.

Click here to read the full Stopgolf report.

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