Celebrity Chef Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees for “fostering a hostile work environment” and permitting a “sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment” at their restaurants, according to the New York State Office of the Attorney General.
The sexual assault allegations came to light in late 2017 when multiple women accused Batali of inappropriately touching them, including groping their breasts and buttocks. One employee accused him of “repeatedly grabbed her from behind and held her tightly against his body,” according to an Eater New York article. Another victim said Batali “groped her and that, in a separate incident, he compelled her to straddle him.”
At the time, Batali took a leave of absence from the company and TV show The Chew. By March 2019, the Bastianich family had bought out all of Batali’s shares in B&B Hospitality. The company, now known as Pasta Resources, operates several concepts, including Babbo and Lupa. It previously owned upscale Italian concept Del Posto, but the restaurant shut down for good this spring and was sold to a new ownership group.
After the allegations surfaced in 2017, the attorney general’s office opened an investigation and found that Batali and Bastianich engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, in violation of state and city human rights laws. In addition to paying $600,000, the company must revise training materials in all restaurants and submit biannual reports to the attorney general’s office to certify compliance.
“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,” said Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at Del Posto, in a statement. “Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalized 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.”
In a statement to the New York Times, Batali said the past few years have been a transformative period and that, “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.”
According to the attorney general’s office, between 2016 and 2019, multiple workers 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. Female employees also submitted complaints about chefs and managers blatantly favoring male employees and making misogynistic comments.
Those complaints were generally dismissed with little to no action. In some cases, the human resources department said it had no jurisdiction if the harassment took place outside the workplace or that it couldn’t act unless a police report was filed.
“Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,” said Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, in a statement. “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. I have immense gratitude for the Attorney General’s Office for believing us, taking us seriously, and giving hope that this industry is on its way to healing and repairing a deeply flawed history.”
Batali still faces two civil cases and a potential criminal trial in Boston involving charges of indecent assault and battery, according to NPR. The New York Police Department closed its investigation into Batali in January 2019 without filing charges. A law enforcement official said the police department wasn’t able to develop probably cause in either of the cases.