Celebrity chef Mario Batali and his business partners have agreed to pay $600,000 to accusers in order to settle an investigation of sexual harassment claims stemming from 2017. The New York State Attorney General’s office announced the agreement with Batali and his associates on Friday.
As a result of the four-year investigation, Batali — along with his company B&B Hospitality and partner and restaurateur Joseph Bastianich — must pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees. They must also revise training materials in all B&B restaurants and submit biannual reports to the office of the attorney general to certify compliance with the agreement.
The money will be divided among employees at restaurants that Batali owned until 2019, including Babbo, Lupa and the now-closed Del Posto. The announcement said the settlement is for “fostering a hostile work environment that permitted a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment at their restaurants in New York City.”
In 2017, the attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the claims and found that B&B, Batali and Bastianich had engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation that violated state and city human rights laws.
According to the AG’s office, more than 20 employees between 2016 and 2019 were subjected to a hostile work environment in which female and male employees were sexually harassed by Batali, restaurant managers and other coworkers. Multiple employees witnessed unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching and sexually explicit comments from managers and coworkers, and several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged and kissed by male colleagues.
The attorney general also said 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 toward his crotch. On another occasion, Batali showed a male server at Lupa an unwelcome pornographic video.
Batali could not be reached, but declined to comment to the New York Times.
Bastianich did not immediately reply to a request for comment to TheWrap, but said in a statement to the NYT, “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.”
“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator,” Letitia James, New York attorney general, said 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. I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behavior for their bravery, selflessness, and commitment to accountability.”
Other female employees who spoke with the attorney general’s office also complained that chefs and managers blatantly favored male employees and made misogynistic comments to women in the workplace, including comments about their appearance, height or weight, and were told to wear makeup or get breast implants.
B&B managers also discouraged the reporting of sexual harassment claims and didn’t take action when witnessed or confronted with reports, and no action was taken against the harassers.
“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 Del Posto, said 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.”
“Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,” Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, said 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.”
Mario Batali was publicly accused of sexual misconduct by four women in an Eater article published in December 2017. The chef said in a statement at the time, “Much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses.”
Batali in 2019 was also charged with indecent assault and battery based on an accusation that he groped and kissed a woman in a restaurant in Boston in 2017, accusations which his lawyer denied.