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Mario Batali and former business partner to pay $600,000 in sexual harassment case

New York Attorney General Letitia James said at least 20 employees experienced a hostile work environment that permitted "a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment."
A Night Of Magic To Benefit The Mario Batali Foundation
Chef Mario Batali and former business partner Joe Bastianich on October 7, 2009 in New York City. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Celebrity chef Mario Batali and former business partner Joe Bastianich have agreed to pay $600,000 to be split among at least 20 former employees following a four-year investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. Batali and Bastianich's B&B Hospitality group was found to be in violation of both city and state human rights laws.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the decision Friday saying that between 2016 and 2019, at least 20 employees of Babbo, Lupa and the now-shuttered Del Posto experienced a hostile work environment that permitted "a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment."

The settlement was signed by both Batali and Bastianich. TODAY Food reached out to lawyers for both parties for comment. An employment lawyer for Bastianich and the restaurant group, Carolyn D. Richmond, declined to comment, but referred to statements given to the New York Times, citing improvements to personnel management and training at the restaurant group.

"The allegations reported unwanted touching, sexual advances, and explicit comments made by managers and coworkers to other employees of the restaurants," said a press release from the attorney general's office.

“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator,” said James. “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.”

Former employees spoke out about the allegations which were first brought against Mario Batali in 2017.

“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,” said Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at Del Posto. “Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalized in any industry or workplace."

Others spoke about how the hostile work environment soured them on a career in hospitality.

“Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,” said Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto. “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."

Female employees said that comments were made about their appearances and that male employees were favored. They were subjected to misogynistic comments at work and complaints to management were generally dismissed.

In 2017, Batali offered an apology for his past mistakes in an email newsletter. "I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team. My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility," he wrote.

The celebrity chef stepped down from his restaurant empire following the allegations. In 2019, he was ousted by gourmet market chain Eataly.

Along with the fine, the agreement stipulates the revision of training materials in all B&B restaurants, as well as biannual reports to certify compliance with the agreement.