Celebrity chefs settle sexual harassment claims for $600,000
Main image

At least 20 former restaurant workers will receive $600,000 in compensation after an investigation found sexual harassment and discrimination in eateries owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali and former MasterChef judge Joseph Bastianich.

The settlement agreement between New York’s Attorney General and Batali, Bastianich, and their management company B&B Hospitality – renamed Pasta Resources – follows a four-year investigation into hostile work environments at their famed restaurants.

Restaurant managers were found to have permitted a sexualised culture of misconduct and harassment in New York City’s Babbo, Lupa, and Del Posto, as well as unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, in violation of state and city human rights laws.

Between 2016 to 2019, multiple employees witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and sexually explicit comments from managers and coworkers. Several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged, or kissed by male colleagues.

Batali, who stepped away from the business in 2017, was found to have sexually harassed a female server by making explicit comments to her and grabbing her hand while she was serving him and pulling it towards his crotch, according to the Attorney General’s office.

On another occasion, Batali was said to have shown a male server at Lupa an unwelcome pornographic video.

The investigation also found that chefs and managers favoured male employees and made misogynistic comments degrading women in the workplace.

In several instances, a manager made comments about the female employees’ appearance, including observations about their height and weight. They were told to wear makeup and even to get breast implants.

The manager also referred to several female employees in front of dining guests as “little girl” and “sensitive,” and said that “females should not work in the mezzanine,” which was a main part of the restaurant.

The Attorney General’s office said B&B had failed to take appropriate action when confronted with reports of sexual harassment, often failed to investigate complaints, and discouraged the reporting of such incidents. Complaints to management were generally dismissed with minimal or no action taken against the harassers.

On at least two occasions, when employees complained of sexual assault, B&B’s human resource department initially responded that the company could not take any action because the assault took place outside of the workplace, or could not take action unless the complainant filed a police report.

Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at Del Posto, said: “When my female coworkers and I were being sexually harassed by multiple people at Del Posto, the restaurant’s leadership made us feel as if we were asking for it – as if it is a rite of passage to be harassed at work.”

“Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalised in any industry or workplace. This settlement is an important step in holding the powerful accountable, and I thank Attorney General James for continuing to right the wrongs done to countless workers in the restaurant industry every single day.”

Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, described how she had endured constant, escalating sexual harassment throughout her employment at the Manhattan restaurant.

“Management routinely ignored these behaviours, made excuses for the perpetrators, and often used victim-blaming as a way to avoid having to deal with a workplace culture rooted in fear and humiliation,” she said.

“While I can’t speak for the countless other victims who faced ongoing harassment and discrimination, I can say that my time working for B&B permanently tarnished my goals and passions for hospitality.”

In addition to paying $600,000 to their workers, the settlement agreement stipulates the revision of harassment and discrimination training materials and policies in all B&B restaurants, as well as biannual reports to certify compliance with the agreement for the next three years.

Batali divested his interest in all Bastianich family restaurants in 2019 and is not subject to the ongoing relief obligations within the settlement agreement unless he obtains a majority ownership stake in any restaurant in New York State during the relevant period.

Bastianich retains a significant stake in both Babbo and Lupa restaurants; it was announced that Del Posto would close permanently in April 2021.

“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere – no matter how powerful the perpetrator,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behaviour that is inappropriate in any setting.

“Every individual deserves to work in a safe environment, and [this] agreement marks one more step towards remedying workplace harassment. I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behaviour for their bravery, selflessness, and commitment to accountability.”