Leo Molloy is a self-made m' />

MATHEW DEARNALEY and SCOTT MacLEOD on the day tempers went past boiling point at one of Auckland's leading restaurants.

Leo Molloy is a self-made man who runs his business as Leo Molloy sees fit.

But his irascible behaviour towards staff and others in the dog-eat-dog restaurant trade came under scrutiny at the Employment Tribunal in an unjustifiable dismissal case brought by a disgruntled ex-employee.

He was unable to hide his low boiling point from tribunal adjudicator Jim Newman, who concluded after a four-day hearing that Mr Molloy had "acted like a navvy and certainly not the owner of one of Auckland's better eating establishments".

At various times in the hearing, Mr Molloy asked cross-examining lawyer Vivienne Crawshaw if she had listened to a word of what he had said and complained to Mr Newman from the witness stand of a lack of drinking water.

But he denied that his admiration for the management philosophy of United States Gulf War veteran General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf meant "going around bullying people".

It was just that someone had to be in ultimate command in a business that relied on excellence to succeed against stiff competition, and he lost his "rag" at former waitress Melanie Cheung after she became insubordinate and goaded him.

"I'm the boss - at the end of the day, I own the business," he told the tribunal.

Mr Newman agreed Ms Cheung had stepped across the line into insubordination in insisting on closing a door after a diner complained of a draught.

But he awarded her $7000 for humiliation and an estimated $2000 in lost wages after finding that Mr Molloy abused her "in a very public manner" and assaulted her when trying to seize notes she was writing to record a tirade of obscenities he was levelling at her.

The tribunal decision was issued a fortnight ago, but it was only yesterday that the Employment Court lifted an order it had imposed at an appeal hearing to prevent any earlier identification of Mr Molloy and 25-year-old Ms Cheung.

Ms Cheung, who has left the restaurant industry for university science studies, also complained of racial abuse and of being sexually harassed by being introduced to patrons by Mr Molloy with references to their penis sizes.

But Mr Newman did not accept she was a victim throughout her nine months or so at the restaurant, saying that "she gave as good as she got".

Mr Molloy denied discussing customers' genitals, or asking a male employee involved in a relationship with Ms Cheung what she was like in bed, saying he was "happily married and absolutely not interested in Melanie's sexual performance".

Even so, he admitted he was fond of a "piss-take", which was his explanation to the tribunal for inviting staff to improve their chances of winning generous raffle prizes by confessing to sleeping with workmates.

Ms Cheung said his sense of humour was usually at other people's expense.

She recalled being among eight or nine front-of-house staff handpicked by an industry consultant for Mr Molloy's new venture in mid-1999.

That was the year of the Louis Vuitton regatta for the America's Cup challenger, and the Auckland waterfront was starting to buzz.

Ms Cheung took a step down from a job as a maitre d' at another eatery to be part of the action, working - and partying - hard.

She told the tribunal she enjoyed Euro, but found Mr Molloy to be a bad-tempered boss who belittled and picked on staff.

"It was a very popular restaurant - everyone wanted to work there - but Leo Molloy's behaviour was the price to pay," she said.

"I loved working there and would still be there if not for Leo Molloy's vicious temper and sleazy behaviour."

Mr Molloy told the tribunal he borrowed heavily to raise the $1.3 million cost of starting the venture, with executive chef Simon Gault as its culinary drawcard.

He told the tribunal that when he opened Euro he had just emerged from a very bad marriage and put "every cent" he had on the venture.

"I took a huge risk on the Viaduct Basin," he said. "I gambled on that place, I couldn't afford to have it lose money, and if that manifest itself in such a way I had to be a hard-arse boss ... "

He said he had since built the restaurant into a business with an annual turnover of between $6 million and $7 million, but insisted he was good to those who were good to him and had sacked only two employees.



Ms Cheung was portrayed by former workmates as not slow to speak her mind.

She was recognised as a competent waitress, but with some personal problems - including addictions to alcohol and amphetamines - which she was not afraid to confess to her employer.

Although she was undergoing treatment while at the restaurant, she was often hard to control, Mr Malloy said, especially after rolling up to work from all-night parties and becoming "scratchy" towards diners and managers.

"There was always drama and customers complaining - when Mel's good she's really good, but when she's bad, she's horrible," Mr Molloy told the tribunal.

He claimed she had been looking for another job some time before her resignation, and that she orchestrated a confrontation with him so she could claim damages after persuading other disenchanted ex-staff to help her to portray him as a sexual predator.

The waitress said customer complaints were a normal part of restaurant life, and denied attracting more than her fair share, noting that she was regarded highly enough to serve the likes of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and various Hollywood stars.

She and Mr Molloy acknowledged drug use was prevalent among the restaurant's staff, although he said he was slow to realise the extent of the problem and would have reported it to the authorities had he known earlier.

"I don't understand the drug culture," he told the tribunal, saying he felt remiss at his failure to recognise the problem, and had since done some research on it.

He confirmed to Vivienne Crawshaw, Ms Cheung's lawyer, that he hired a private investigator during the hearing and said this was to give him a better understanding of what had happened at the restaurant.

"It has become obvious there is a major drug-taking ring at Euro," he said, before Mr Newman struck this evidence off the tribunal record as being after the fact of Ms Cheung's resignation.

Mr Newman noted a culture of "sexual innuendo and banter" at Euro, but Restaurant Association chief executive Neville Waldren denies this is typical of the industry.

He told the Herald that, while the industry used to have a reputation for inappropriate goings-on, it was cleaning up its act.

Neither was it a "bitchy" industry.

"There's a few prima-donnas. Chefs work in hot kitchens and there's some stress in there, but it's a pretty unified industry," Mr Waldren said.

Graeme McKay of the Hospitality Association sees a grey area between banter and offensive behaviour.

He says the industry has a fun and party aspect that can blur the line.

Columnist and restaurateur Jonny Cortizo says harassment is a throwback to "the old days of army chefs and head chefs - and it's not appropriate".