Disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali and his former business partner Joseph Bastianich will pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees in a settlement announced by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
In 2017, the men were accused of fostering a hostile workplace at their storied restaurants, including Babbo, Lupa, and Del Posto. Former female employees came forward to say that Batali groped and sexually assaulted them, and he would often invite them to fellow restaurateur Ken Friedman’s The Spotted Pig’s third floor, which some nicknamed “the rape room.” Batali stepped away from B&B Hospitality, the company he founded with Bastianich, in 2019. B&B later renamed itself Pasta Resources.
Employees also accused Batali and Bastianich of retaliating against them, as well as discriminating against them because they were women. From the AG’s press release:
Between 2016 to 2019, multiple employees witnessed or personally experienced unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and sexually explicit comments from managers and coworkers, and several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged, and/or kissed by male colleagues. Batali himself 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. On another occasion, Batali showed a male server at Lupa an unwelcome pornographic video.
Female employees specifically made complaints that chefs and managers blatantly favored 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.
“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 James in a statement. “Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting. Every individual deserves to work in a safe environment, and today’s agreement marks one more step towards remedying workplace harassment.”
The company, James said, failed to take meaningful action when employees made complaints.
“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,” Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at the now-shuttered Del Posto, said. “Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalized in any industry or workplace.”
Brianna Pintens, a former Del Posto server, thanked James and her office for their work, “Management routinely ignored these behaviors, 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. 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 the financial payment, the settlement requires that all training manuals at the restaurants be received and biannual reports certifying compliance—like records of harassment training—with the agreement must be submitted to the AG’s office for three years.
Batali issued a statement to the NY Times, “The past few years have truly been a transformative period. Including the pandemic, there have been a lot of lessons learned over the past three and a half years, and it has given us an opportunity to redefine our business and the culture we want to foster within our restaurants, emerging as the company we want to be.”
He faces assault charges in Boston for a 2017 incident where he allegedly groped and kissed a woman at a restaurant. The case is still pending in the Central Division of Boston Municipal Court, and the next hearing is scheduled for September 15th.
AG James noted that victims of sexual harassment or discrimination “that occurred at any of these restaurants since at least 2016,” should contact her office at (212) 416-8250.