Two men and four women have joined forces to sue Mohawk House restaurant and its owner, Steve Scro, for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation, and retaliation. The lawsuit comes six months after Mohawk House sued and got a default judgment against one of the complainants for “terroristic threats” and attempting to “destroy” Mohawk House.
“Mohawk House has been an anchor in the community for more than 15 years, with many of the over 45 staff having worked there for over five years or more. This retaliatory lawsuit was initiated by a former employee who repeatedly turns to the courts with outrageous accounts intended to result in a big payday...The other employees’ complaints were investigated and determined to be without any basis... We look forward to the facts emerging.”— Stephen J. Edelstein, attorney for Mohawk House restaurant
“Over the years,” the complaint begins, “while (Steve) Scro unapologetically sexually abused his employees and discriminated against them, he would continuously remind them that in Sparta, he had close connections with many powerful people, including the Sparta police department, judges and local politicians.”
In May, Mohawk House sued one of the plaintiffs, James Kruzelnick, as the “mastermind” of a social media campaign “to destroy it.”
Mohawk House’s lawyer called the current suit “retaliatory” for the action Mohawk House took against Kruzelnick and four others in May. Kruzelnick didn’t respond to that lawsuit, and in August Mohawk House obtained a default judgment of $5,000 against him. In connection with that suit, Kruzelnick’s attorney, Bennitta Joseph of Joseph & Norinsberg, said, “Steve Scro’s attacks against Mr. Kruzelnick are a complete distortion of reality and nothing more than Scro’s manipulative attempt to twist and conceal the truth and falsely portray himself as the victim.”
In the current lawsuit, Kruzelnick, a Wantage resident, alleges that while working as a bartender at Mohawk House he was discriminated against and harassed because of his sexual orientation. According to the complaint, Scro frequently made gay jokes and called Kruzelnick “faggot.” When a manager made derogatory comments to Kruzelnick and called him “gay boy” in a text, Scro purportedly never took action against the manager.
The other plaintiffs
The other complainants in the suit against Mohawk House — AnnMarie Stefano, Denise Guagenti, Lisa Stoeckel, Kayla Dollar, and Craig Vaccaro — allege that Scro would “repeatedly smack and grope” employees’ buttocks, tell women to wear lower-cut blouses and get boob jobs, and ask “female staff to kiss” him as they walked by. Stoeckel alleges she was demoted and her hourly wage cut because she kept rejecting Scro’s advances.
According to the complaint, “everyone ignored Scro’s behavior because...he had done it so frequently that he had normalized his offensive behavior.”
Together, the plaintiffs seek damages totaling $15 million.
In response: ‘An anchor in the community’
Mohawk House attorney Stephen Edelstein responded to the suit saying, “Mohawk House has been an anchor in the community for more than 15 years, with many of the over 45 staff having worked there for over 5 years or more. This retaliatory lawsuit was initiated by a former employee who repeatedly turns to the courts with outrageous accounts intended to result in a big payday.
“His performance record speaks for itself.
“The other employees’ complaints were investigated and determined to be without any basis.
“This action is intended to hurt a business, already reeling from COVID, yet it continues to take every opportunity to assist the community.
“We look forward to the facts emerging.”
Kruzelnick vs. the judge
Kruzelnick is represented by Manhattan-based law firm Joseph & Norinsberg, which also represents Kruzelnick in his September 2020 sexual harassment suit against former Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News analyst.
In that lawsuit, Kruzelnick alleges Napolitano groped him and “grabbed” his buttocks and told him “you are just so hot” while they were both at Mohawk House. Napolitano denies the allegations.
He also alleges that Napolitano said he had “fixed cases” before. Kruzelnick believed he “would have to continue to perform sexual favors for Napolitano if he wanted Napolitano to help out his brother,” who is incarcerated.
Napolitano’s attorney told The New Jersey Herald that Kruzelnick’s lawsuit is “nonsense.”
Editor’s note: This article has been revised from the original.