Chef Sai Sakham Chou of Burma Taste, a Burmese restaurant in Sunnyvale, has been accused of sexual harassment by a female employee who is “half her age,” according to a lawsuit.
In a complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Feb. 17, the plaintiff, a Myanmar server and student identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe, worked for Burma Taste for a year before resigning due to repeated verbal and physical sexual harassment. according to her attorney, Navruz Avloni, of the San Francisco firm of Avloni Law.
Owners Win Min Thant and Khin Sandi Thu, whose company Burma Taste operates under the name Golden State Foods LLC, are also named in the lawsuit, alleging that the owners and chef have created a hostile work environment and that the owners are not succeeded in her sexual harassment by their chef, retaliated when Doe complained and threatened other Burma Taste employees with firing if they helped Doe file the lawsuit.
Neither the chef nor the owners responded to requests for comment. Their attorney, Tyler M. Paetkau of the Husch Blackwell law firm in Oakland, said only, “We try our cases in court, not the media.”
According to the filing, Doe was 19 when she was hired on January 27, 2022 by the restaurant, located on S. Murphy Ave. 124. Over a period of 10 months, Doe was subjected to repeated verbal and sexual harassment by Chou. The chef allegedly regularly made inappropriate comments to Doe, touched her hands, shoulders and thighs and pressed his body against hers without permission, whispered in her ear and blew kisses around the restaurant, the filing said. .
After Doe’s repeated complaints to management were ignored, she finally took matters into her own hands and loudly yelled at Chou to stay away from her, whereupon, she says, she was reprimanded for yelling at a superior. The lawsuit alleges that after Doe eventually resigned, Burma Taste employees were “threatened with dismissal” if they helped her pursue her case.
Doe originally came to the United States on her own in 2019 as a 16-year-old college student, the first in her family to do so. She attended classes at San Jose City College for a year and briefly worked for an on-campus catering company before the pandemic hit, and she moved back to Myanmar to be with her family.
When she returned for in-person classes in 2021, she applied for the server position at Burma Taste and was hired on the spot. In the beginning, the job was great, she said. Doe knew the kitchen, made friends easily, and met her boyfriend, who worked at Burma Choice, a Burmese restaurant in San Jose run by the same owners. The harassment began a few months after she took office, in the spring of 2022, Doe said in an interview with the Bay Area News Group.
“(Chou) is more than twice my age, so at first I thought he treated me like a daughter,” says Doe, who claims Chou said, “I love you” and called her “My girl” in Shan, what they both speak. “But then it started to get really awkward.”
Once, when Doe was having lunch in the common dining area, Chou sat very close to her and touched her thigh in front of colleagues. Chou asked Doe several times to go out, spend time alone with him after work, and if he could give her a ride home. When she replied that she couldn’t and that she had a boyfriend, Chou replied that “a boyfriend is just a boyfriend, not a husband.” Trying to protect herself, she threatened to tell Chou’s wife about the harassment.
“I felt so embarrassed and humiliated,” she says.
On two separate occasions, Doe told her employers about what was going on and got a laugh and a smile, she said. The final straw was when she was blamed for yelling at Chou to stay away from her. She was scolded and told to respect Chou because he was older and the chef.
“They weren’t offended by what he did, they were offended by my tone,” she says. “It was so shocking. I felt so sad and so depressed. Not once did I receive an “I’m sorry you went through this.” They have daughters of their own. How would they react if this happened to them?”
Now in her freshman year at San Jose State University, studying accounting, Doe says she plans to stay in the United States and pursue a career in audit accounting. She hopes her mother’s visa will be approved soon so she can visit. Doe says she could use the support.
“It’s very, very unusual in my culture for people to talk like that, especially girls my age and especially in a new country alone,” she says. “I didn’t even know I could talk to a lawyer until someone told me.”