By Lukas I. Alpert
Celebrity chef Mario Batali and his former partner Joseph Bastianich have reached an agreement to pay $600,000 to more than 20 employees who were sexually harassed at their restaurants, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Friday.
A four-year investigation revealed an atmosphere at the men’s eateries Babbo, Lupa and the now-defunct Del Posto, in which women were forced to endure sexual remarks, groping and being kissed against their will, James said.
One male manager told an employee she should get breast implants and Batali once grabbed a female server’s hand and pulled it towards his crotch, the investigation found. Women were also regularly passed over for promotions, the attorney general said. At least one male employee complained about being forced to watch pornographic videos that made him uncomfortable, the investigation found.
When complaints were made to company officials, they were routinely dismissed and no action was taken, the probe found.
“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator,” James said . “Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting.”
Messages sent to lawyers for Batali and Bastianich weren’t immediately returned.
After the allegations from employees began surfacing in 2017 as the #MeToo movement began gaining steam, Batali took a leave of absence from his restaurant empire. In 2019, Batali was bought out of the business by his partners, Pasta Resources, LLC, formerly known as the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group.
The group wasn’t the only restaurant business to be rocked by a sexual harassment scandal. Manhattan’s the Spotted Pig reached a similar agreement with the attorney general’s office in 2020 to pay damages to several employees who were harassed and to give them 20% of all future profits from the business or from a sale. The restaurant closed soon after.
At its height, the Batali & Bastianich group encompassed dozens of restaurants and food businesses in the United States, Italy, Singapore and Hong Kong. Following the scandal, several were closed overseas. Earlier this year, the group shut its flagship Del Posto in Manhattan.
Batali also sold his minority stake in Eataly, a chain of high-end Italian food stores.
In addition to the monetary settlement, the company has agreed to revise its training protocols and submit biannual reports to the attorney general’s office about its compliance.