By Ed Lewis (Times Leader)
WILKES-BARRE — A Hazle Township former restaurant owner sentenced to three years probation for groping a teenage female employee is the subject of a civil lawsuit filed in Luzerne County Court by the girl.
Harry Werkeiser, 69, of state Route 940, Harleigh, hired a then 17-year-old girl to be a hostess at his restaurant, Bonanza Steakhouse on Susquehanna Boulevard in September 2020, according to the suit filed by attorneys Patrick J. Doyle Jr. and Kelly M. Ciravolo of the Anzalone Law Offices in Wilkes-Barre.
Shortly after the girl was hired, the suit alleges Werkeiser began making sexually explicit and inappropriate comments toward her making references about her appearance, saying “guys should be lining up.” As she swept the floor of the restaurant, Werkeiser whispered in her ear, “you are so hot,” the suit says.
Werkeiser’s comments and verbal harassment turned physical, the suit alleges, as he would position and rub himself against the girl or touch her inappropriately while reaching for items.
As the girl was signing to receiving a paycheck on June 26, 2021, the suit alleges Werkeiser groped her, causing her to freeze.
The suit alleges the girl began experiencing panic attacks and dry heaving due to Werkeiser’s inappropriate comments and actions and resigned from the restaurant in early July 2021.
Following her resignation, the girl reported the offenses to state police at Hazleton.
State police charged Werkeiser after she was questioned by a forensic interviewer at the Luzerne County Children’s Advocacy Center in Wilkes-Barre.
Court records say Werkeiser pled guilty to corruption of minors and harassment and was sentenced by President Judge Michael T. Vough to three years probation on Nov. 22.
Prosecutors withdrew an indecent assault charge against Werkeiser.
Werkeiser was accused of telling the girl he thought of her when he had sex with his wife, according to court records.
The suit names Werkeiser, Bonanza Steakhouse and the restaurant’s parent company, W&W Restaurants, as defendants alleging vicarious liability, direct liability and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
According to the suit, the girl reported to the general manager of W&W Restaurants about Werkeiser’s behavior but the company failed to react.
Bonanza Steakhouse closed in November 2021.
Werkeiser could not be reached for comment on Thursday.