An investigation into the once towering Manhattan restaurant business, built by chef Mario Batali and former partner Joe Bastianich, revealed a sexualized culture so harassed and retaliatory as to violate state and city human rights laws, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced on Friday.
As part of an agreement brokered by Ms. James’ office, the two men and Pasta Resources, the company formerly known as the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, will pay a total of $ 600,000 to at least 20 women and men who have been sexually active during their time Worked in the Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto, which were the crown jewel among the mansions until they were finally closed in April.
The investigation literally put into concrete terms what former employees had discussed on social media and in interviews: The men created a misogynist culture in which women regularly endure sexual comments, fumbling and kisses against their will. A manager told the servers to get breast implants or other changes to their appearance, the attorney general said. Male colleagues told the women to get on their knees or discuss the characteristics of their mouths.
Women were passed over in the dining room at premiere promotions and were told that “girls” could not be table captains, the investigation found. Complaints to managers were downplayed or dismissed.
“Batali and Bastianich allowed an unbearable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting,” said Ms. James. “Fame and fame do not absolve anyone from complying with the law.”
Mr Batali, reached by text message, said he would not comment on the settlement.
“The last few years have really been a time of transformation,” Bastianich said in a statement to the Times. “Including the pandemic, we have learned many lessons over the past three and a half years and given ourselves the opportunity to redefine our business and the culture we want to promote in our restaurants and grow into the company we want.” being.”
Julianna Imperati, who worked as head chef at Del Posto for about a year in 2017 and 2018, was one of more than 20 victims of sexual harassment interviewed by investigators. She described watching and experiencing sexual harassment, including being grabbed by a line chef. The general manager and then-chef made the women feel like asking and treated the incidents as rites of passage, she told investigators.
“I want every woman in the restaurant industry to know that it is not normal to be sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused just for being a woman,” she said in a statement to the Times.
“It’s not a rite of passage, and it didn’t happen because you were too kind,” she said. “It happened because the men and women in power let it.”
Ms. James began her investigation in 2017 when the #MeToo movement exploded and news of Mario Batali’s sexually aggressive behavior surfaced.
At the end of the year, Mr. Batali was fired from the ABC cooking and talk show “The Chew” and withdrew with Mr. Bastianich from the restaurants he owned. In 2019, Mr Bastianich and his sister Tanya Bastianich Manuali bought all of Mr Batali’s shares in a number of communal restaurants, ending a 20-year relationship between the men.
At its peak, Batali & Bastianich spanned dozens of restaurants and food companies in the United States, Italy, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The company has been reconfigured and no longer uses this name.
Mr. Bastianich consistently downplayed his own role in the atmosphere in the restaurants and instead publicly addressed the sexual misconduct of Mr. Batali, whose culinary fame had little competition at the time.
Mr Bastianich said in previous statements that he was not fully aware of Mr Batali’s sexual aggression but heard him say inappropriate things to employees.
“Although I’ve criticized him for it from time to time, I should have done more,” he said. “I neglected my responsibilities when I turned my attention away from the restaurants.”
The Federal Public Prosecutor’s investigations do not refer to Mr Bastianich for specific sexual harassment, but cast a new, sharper light on his role and emphasize that both men were responsible for the toxic environment.
Brianna Pintens, who started out as a baked waitress at Del Posto and quickly rose to a more prominent role in the dining room, said harassment was so common that female employees offered tips on the best ways to avoid catcalls when they give up made the way to the restaurant Bad.
She told investigators that she was molested by a cook whose comments began as casual compliments about her appearance, escalated to repeated pressures to be on a date, and culminated in a surprise bear hug that lifted her off her feet as she went to the Work went.
Ms. Pintens told a general manager who stopped her from telling the HR manager about it and suggested that she find out how to deal with it herself.
She was comforted by Melissa Rodriguez, the head chef, and the man was away from work for some time. She wasn’t sure if he was suspended or just not scheduled for work while she was working. He returned to the line within weeks, pretending that nothing had ever happened between them.
“Having been in the industry for so long and seeing some really messed up things, I thought this was just another story that would be swept under the rug with no consequences,” said Ms. Pintens.
The attorney general highlighted one specific behavior by Mr Batali, including an incident where he sexually molested a woman serving him, then grabbed her hand and pulled it to his genitals, and another where he made a pornographic act on a male waiter Video showed at Lupa who didn’t want to see it.
In addition to the payments, the settlement requires a revision of the training and procedures related to sexual harassment in the restaurants of Mr Bastianich and everyone in which he or Mr Batali could be a majority shareholder over the next three years. Every six months reports on the progress of the restaurant group must be submitted to the Attorney General.
Carolyn D. Richmond, labor law attorney for Mr. Bastianich and the restaurant group, said many of the improvements in training and human resource management mandated by the attorney general had already occurred.
“In particular, I believe we were the first New York City restaurant group to set up a 24-hour employee helpline operated by a third party,” she said.
In many ways, the deal resembles a settlement negotiated in 2020 between Ms. James and Ken Friedman, the main owner of Spotted Pig restaurant in Manhattan, who agreed to pay $ 240,000 and one to the 11 former employees who indicted the defendants He pays a share of the restaurant’s profits for sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination.
This investigation, which began in 2018, also found that employees had experienced “serious and widespread incidents of unwanted touch and sexual advances” from Mr. Batali, a former Spotted Pig investor and frequent guest.
Mr. Friedman closed the Spotted Pig the same month the settlement was reached, effectively destroying the profit-sharing portion of the arrangement. He paid $ 192,000 to the Attorney General’s office, which it distributed to the 11 women who made the allegations. A final payment of $ 48,000 is due on October 1st.
In the case of Mr Bastianich and Mr Batali, the public prosecutor’s office still determines how many employees will receive payments and how high they will be. Ms. James’ office will continue to interview any former employee who thinks they may have a claim.
“I’m glad the ladies who worked for Mario are being financially compensated,” said Trish Nelson, one of Spotted Pig’s servers who was molested by Mr. Friedman. She offered support to one of the women when she was investigating Mr Batali and Mr Bastianich.
“While $ 20,000 over five years is ridiculous to most, women like us feel like $ 20 million,” she said.
Mr Batali is still facing at least two civil cases and one possible criminal case.
In 2019, he pleaded not guilty of indecent assault and assault by a woman who asked him to take a selfie in a Boston bar in 2017. She told police that he grabbed her breasts, buttocks and groin, forcibly kissed her mouth and cheek, and suggested that they go to his nearby hotel.
A hearing has not yet been set, but the next hearing on the case is scheduled for September 15th. Ms. Natali Tene also filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court in 2018 based on the same incident. Another woman, Alexandra Brown, filed a similar lawsuit based on an incident with Mr Batali during a selfie session in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
New York police closed three investigations into sexual assault allegations against Mr Batali in 2019 because detectives could not find enough evidence to make an arrest.
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