The owners of the popular Sushi Roku restaurant chain have been sued by their former off-site catering manager for allegedly engaging in illegal activities that include sexually harassing female employees, paying undocumented workers under the table and refusing to book events for African Americans and Persians.

Laura Holycross, who worked almost two years at Innovative Dining Group, which owns the chain of Sushi Roku, Katana and Boa restaurants, says she was fired two months ago after complaining about the illegal activities, according to the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

"Things were going well and then, according to the complaint, she began complaining about various things," said Andrew Friedman, a partner at Helmer Friedman LLP who represents Holycross. "She noted the company wasn't complying with the law; they retaliated against her and ultimately fired her because of her complaints."

IDG has been one of the local restaurant industry's major success stories, with its swanky Asian-styled restaurants in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena and Las Vegas. Aside from a brief tussle with another restaurant operator over the use of a trademarked name, and an unsuccessful effort to open at the W Hotel in Westwood, there have been few hints of operational troubles.

Lee Maen, one of the IDG owners who is a named defendant in the suit, refused to comment on Holycross' specific allegations, but said he "categorically denies all of it" and that she was fired "for good cause."

"It's almost laughable, other than the fact that we have to deal with it," he said.

Common complaints
The suit, while addressing a host of issues, highlights common complaints in the restaurant business. Several other top restaurants in Los Angeles have been accused in recent years of racial discrimination against their employees and their customers.

Accusations of paying undocumented workers "under the table," or in cash, are also very common, said Darlene Heskamp, a restaurant specialist at Beitler Commercial Realty Services in Brentwood. "When anybody can do something under the table and not pay exorbitant fees to the government, that's what people do," she said.

Still, she was not aware of such allegations being brought against IDG's owners, whom she knows. "What goes on internally I have no idea, but in the restaurant industry they are very well liked for their professionalism," Heskamp said.

After careers in finance, real estate and marketing, Maen, Philip Cummins and Craig Katz started the Gem Bar & Lounge in Hollywood. They opened the first Sushi Roku in 1997.

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