Steak N Shake blamed for rape of co-worker, ignoring abundant ‘red flags’

in Local Courts by
Raheem Bell

A Steak N Shake employee raped by a co-worker in 2013 is suing her employer for failing to act, despite several warnings of the attacker’s behavior.

In early 2013, police arrested Largo resident Raheem Willis Bell, then 21, for forcibly removing the pants of a 17-year-old girl and raping her Jan. 11 behind the Target store at 4450 Park St. N in St. Petersburg.

According to a Seminole Beacon article on the rape, Bell had a prior arrest in March 2012 for lewd and lascivious battery on a female under age 16. At that time, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.

A condition of the probation was that Department of Corrections must confirm Bell’s employment status by directly contacting his employer. At the time, Bell worked for Steak N Shake at 10555 Ulmerton Road in Largo. A month after the 2012 incident, Steak N Shake allegedly transferred Bell to the St. Petersburg location on 4480 Park St., rather than fire him.

Of the 2013 rape charge, Bell was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. Now 25, Bell is a registered sex offender.

A lawsuit filed by the anonymous victim Jan. 4, 2017, in Pinellas County Sixth Judicial Circuit Court says Bell and “Jane Doe” were co-workers at the St. Petersburg Steak N Shake. The two were on break at the time the rape occurred.

Before his time at the Steak N Shake restaurant in St. Petersburg, Bell was also targeted with sexual harassment complaints from female co-workers. Soon after, Doe and other female co-workers began to complain to management that Bell was sexually harassing them. The suit argues Steak N Shake should have fired Bell long before the incident.

However, the suit says nothing was done.

Now, Doe is seeking damages for negligent retention, assault and battery.

Steak N Shake is a subsidiary of Biglari Holdings, a public-traded company based in San Antonio, Texas. Other Biglari properties include Maxim magazine and Western Sizzlin, a chain of buffet restaurants.

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.