A six-figure sexual harassment and discrimination settlement made national news recently. That’s because one of the alleged wrongdoers wasn’t just any employer – it was one of New York’s best-known celebrity chefs. The case and the settlement serve as a clear reminder that, whether you’re serving sliders at a chain “neighborhood grill” or delivering delicacies at a Michelin-rated establishment, you can find yourself as the target of sexual harassment and discrimination, so you need to know what to do when it happens. That starts with reaching out to a knowledgeable New York sexual harassment and discrimination lawyer to learn more about the legal options available to you.
The agreement ended an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office into the restaurants of celebrity chef Mario Batali and his business partner.
According to numerous current and former restaurant workers, Batali engaged in several acts of sexual harassment. Allegedly, the chef, his partner, and their company “fostered a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment at their restaurants in New York City.”
The Attorney General Office’s investigation determined that Batali harassed both female and male employees, subjecting a woman to “sexually explicit comments regarding her appearance, unwanted touching, and unwelcome sexual advances,” and a man to an “unwelcome pornographic video.” In the incident with the female employee, Batali “forcibly grabbed her hand while she was serving him and pulled it toward his crotch,” according to the Attorney General.
Additionally, the investigation concluded that restaurant managers, on multiple occasions, made inappropriate comments about employees’ physical appearance and/or sexual tendencies. These ranged from a woman being told to wear more makeup to an insinuation to another female worker that she should undergo breast augmentation to talk about a woman “getting on her knees” and having a “beautiful mouth” to suggestive questions like “are you a bad girl?” A male employee heard even more lurid comments invoking a particularly graphic fetishistic sex act.
The settlement calls for the chef, his partner, and their company to pay 20+ former workers a total of $600,000. The company also promised, as part of the agreement, to revise all training materials.
Two of the harassed women, who were quoted in the Attorney General’s press release, described a scenario that occurs in far too many restaurant workplaces. “When my female coworkers and I were being sexually harassed by multiple people…, 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,” J.I., a female cook, said. B.P., a female server at the same restaurant, described “constant, escalating sexual harassment,” that spanned the entirety of her time there. “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.”
Why the Problem is So Widespread in the Restaurant Industry
The harm these workers faced is regrettably far from unique to these restaurants. In the restaurant industry, workers who receive tips as a significant chunk of their income are especially vulnerable. Whether the sexual harassment comes from a guest, a coworker, a supervisor, or someone else, the victim fears speaking up about the harassment because of the distinct fear that voicing their complaint could impair – or destroy – their ability to continue making a living at that job. The employer could reduce that worker’s hours, could start assigning her to shifts with fewer guests and smaller tips or fire her completely. Workers know this and, as a result, too often suffer in silence.
The reality is, though, that you don’t have to suffer in silence and, if your employer does punish you for speaking up, then that simply gives you one more potential arrow in your quiver of legal options (in the form of a retaliation claim.) In some situations, even just a single instance may be enough to give you a winning case if the harassment was truly severe, such as overtly physical harassment like a harasser touching you in a sexual way or forcing you to touch them in a sexual manner.
The knowledgeable New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Our attorneys understand that sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, while widespread, is never OK. We know the unique challenges harassed servers and other restaurant workers face and we know how to put the legal system to work to protect you, your safety, and your financial well-being. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.