Celebrity chef Mario Batali agrees to US$600,000 settlement over sexual harassment

A May 2019 photo shows Mario Batali being arraigned on a charge of indecent assault and battery at a court in Boston. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Celebrity chef Mario Batali and his business partner have agreed to pay US$600,000 (S$800,000) to at least 20 former employees after an investigation found their Manhattan restaurants were rife with sexual harassment, the New York attorney-general announced on Friday (July 23).

The culture of unwanted groping, kissing, hugging, sexual advances and explicit comments at Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto broke New York human rights laws, Attorney-General Letitia James said in a statement.

After waiters and other workers came forward with complaints, Batali sold his stake in his restaurants in 2019.

Del Posto closed in April.

"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 provided by the attorney general's office.

The attorney-general's investigation found that Batali himself grabbed a female server's hand and pulled it towards his crotch, and that he showed a male server an "unwelcome" pornographic video, according to a summary of the settlement.

Male managers at the restaurants made crass sexual comments, told female employees to wear make-up and insinuated to some of them that they should get breast implants.

Some were told they could not be promoted to captain because they were a "girl."

Batali could not immediately be reached for comment, but told the New York Times he would not be publicly discussing the settlement.

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The US$600,000 settlement will be paid by Batali; his partner, Joseph Bastianich; and their management company, Pasta Resources, formerly known as B&B Hospitality.

In 2018, Batali denied any allegations of sexual assault, but apologised for behaviour that he acknowledged had been "deeply inappropriate."

Prosecutors in Boston in 2019 separately charged Batali with forcibly groping and kissing a woman at a restaurant in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.

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