Uproar at top restaurant as waiter quits over 'nipple tweak'

Robert Verkaik
Monday 27 September 2010 00:00
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The sedate world of dim sum dining is set to be rocked by allegations of sexual harassment among the waiting staff of one of London's best-known and award-winning Chinese restaurants.

In an unusual case of alleged workplace discrimination, a gay Chinese waiter has begun legal proceedings against the Michelin-starred restaurant Yauatcha, in Soho, where he says he was the victim of homophobic abuse and harassment by staff and customers.

Vincent Ma worked at the top London eatery until, he claims, sexual jibes and a failure to provide sufficient rest breaks for his diabetes forced him to leave.

The 31-year-old says some colleagues began making comments after they discovered he was homosexual. He added that his high workload, coupled with his diabetes, caused him to lose weight, and this made the inappropriate remarks grow more frequent.

In his claim, lodged at an employment tribunal, Mr Ma says: "I was losing weight and, due to the tightness of the company uniform, a black T-shirt, my body figure was being shown. On one occasion, my nipples were popped out due to low temperature and one manager said to me it was sexy."

On another occasion, his nipples were pinched by a gay customer, he claims. When he complained to a duty manager, he says he did not receive a proper response but was asked: "Do you like it?" He also alleges that one of the managers asked him whether he was a virgin.

Mr Ma said: "My loss of weight leads me to look attractive, but it brought me trouble as I suffered from sexual harassment from some duty managers. I can't tolerate their actions when it becomes frequent and aggressive; I was the centre of the world that everyone makes jokes on."

Yauatcha was opened as a minimalist teahouse and Chinese restaurant in 2004 by Alan Yau, the man behind Hakkasan and the Wagamama chain. Its food and staff have become favourites among restaurant critics and celebrities, with one critic describing Yauatcha as "pure Sex and the City territory".

Mr Ma has very little praise for his former employers. He resigned on 29 May after he lost weight and suffered from diabetic retinopathy. "I still have dreams, but I feel negative about this country," he said. "I feel that I was being discriminated. I wonder if there's justice in the world, especially now I am an individual to stand against a company."

Hakkasan Limited, the restaurant group which owns Yauatcha, strenuously denies the allegations. Interim chief operating officer David Anderson said changes had been made to Mr Ma's duties after he said he was diabetic, and that he received the same training duties as everyone else, and though inappropriate comments were made, Mr Ma "actively participated" in it. A spokesman said: "Hakkasan and Yauatcha have a company policy not to comment on individual cases."

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