Celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and their New York City restaurant company have agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees who were sexually harassed and retaliated against on the job.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the agreement with the two chefs and their management group B&B hospitality on Friday.
The settlement follows a four-year investigation by the attorney general’s office that “found that B&B, Batali, and Bastianich had engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, in violation of state and city human rights laws” at their restaurants Babbo, Lupa, and the now-closed Del Posto, according to the agreement filed with the court.
In addition to paying the employees, B&B, Batali and Bastianich must revise training materials in B&B restaurants and submit biannual reports, providing proof of training and records of harassment and discrimination.
“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law,” James said. “Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator.”
Representatives for Batali, Bastianich and B&B did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. Both men’s signatures appeared on the settlement agreement, dated Thursday.
“Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting,” James said in a statement. “I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behavior for their bravery, selflessness, and commitment to accountability.”
The investigation found that both men and women were harassed, according to James.
“Several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged, and/or kissed by male colleagues,” the attorney general’s office found, according to a press release.
“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,” according to the investigation. “On another occasion, Batali showed a male server at Lupa an unwelcome pornographic video.”
Female employees said the male employees were favored. They also said they were told to wear makeup and get breast implants, and referred to in front of customers as “little girl” and “sensitive.”
“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 in response to the settlement agreement.
“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 press release from the attorney general’s office. “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,” Pintens said.
Batali was fired from hosting ABC show “The Chew,” which has since been canceled, in December 2017 after Eater New York published a report in which four women said he had groped them and made inappropriate sexual comments to them.
In a statement at the time, Batali, formerly best known for his orange crocs, pony tail and vespa, apologized and said the accusations described by the women “match up” with the way he had acted.
In 2018, New York City police said they were investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Batali after a woman told “60 Minutes” he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2005. Batali denied assaulting the woman and no charges have been filed.
In 2019, Batali was charged with indecent assault and battery for allegedly forcibly kissing and groping a woman at a Boston restaurant in 2017. He pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
Anthony Fuller, an attorney speaking on Batali’s behalf, said at the time that the chef denies the allegations in both the criminal and civil complaints brought by the woman in Boston.
“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit. He intends to fight the allegations vigorously, and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali,” Fuller said.
He was bought out of B&B hospitality in March of 2019, Bastianich and his sister Tanya announced.
Babbo and Lupa are still operated by Bastianich, according to their websites. He currently is a host and judge of “MasterChef” on Fox.
“The past few years have truly been a transformative period,” Bastianich said in a statement to The New York Times. “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.”