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Former Hogan’s Beach bartender claims ‘pervasive’ sexual harassment

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A former bartender at Hogan’s Beach in Tampa is accusing the now-closed club of encouraging “pervasive” sexual harassment.

Lorna Marie Perez is a 32-year-old Pinellas Park resident who began working for Hogan’s Beach — the namesake of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan — in 2013.

In a suit filed July 18 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Perez asserts the sexual harassment there was not only pervasive but encouraged. For example, she claims a sign in the managers’ office said: “NOTICE SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THIS AREA WILL NOT BE REPORTED HOWEVER, IT WILL BE ‘GRADED.”

Perez’ complaint also outlines the systemic harassment she endured over two years at Hogan’s Beach: “Half a dozen” managers sexually harassed and propositioned her; female colleagues engaging in sexual banter and/or relations with managers allegedly received favorable treatment, while those opposing the behavior (like Perez) were subject to difficult schedules and other retribution.

In 2012, Equity Management Partners, whose principal and founder is Ben Mallah, had paid $15.25-million for the resort at 7700 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway in Tampa. At the time, it was the Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel.

Later that same year, Equity opened a 20,000-square-foot bar/restaurant called Hogan’s Beach. A Tampa Bay Times report from December 2012 described Hulk Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — as a partner in the deal, but it is also possible he simply licensed his name and had no real equity interest in the club.

Chicago developer (and co-defendant in Perez’s suit) Oxford Capital Group purchased the hotel and bar/restaurant in 2015 for $34.5-million. Oxford later dropped the “Bay Western” name, renovated the property, and re-christened the bar “Beach Bar Restaurant.”

Perez was fired in May 2015, just months before the property was sold to Oxford.

Among the attached documents in Perez’s complaint is a letter from the Florida Commission on Human Relations saying the discrimination claim had “reasonable cause exists to believe that an unlawful practice occurred” at Hogan’s Beach.

Perez is seeking damages for discrimination and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

 

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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