Celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have made a deal to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees, following complaints about workplace culture.
Batali (The Chew) and Bastianich (MasterChef) engaged in "unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation" at their restaurant companies, which violates state and city human rights laws, according to a July 23 press release from New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The chefs, their management company B&B Hospitality and their restaurants (Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto) made an agreement with the Attorney General for allegedly fostering a "hostile work environment" at their restaurants in New York City, which "permitted a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment," per the AG.
The New York Attorney General's office said it began investigating Batali, 60, after sexual harassment allegations were made against him in 2017. "The allegations reported unwanted touching, sexual advances and explicit comments made by managers and coworkers to other employees of the restaurants," the press release states.
In addition to the six-figure payment to ex-employees, Batali and Bastianich must revise training materials in all B&B restaurants and submit biannual reports to the Attorney General's office to make sure they're complying with the agreement.
"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 in a statement.
She continued, "Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting." The Attorney General said the agreement is an attempt to remedy workplace harassment, adding, "I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behavior for their bravery, selflessness and commitment to accountability."
Many of the AG's mandated improvements in both training and personnel management have already been made, said Carolyn D. Richmond, a lawyer for Bastianich and the restaurant group, in a statement obtained by E! News. She explained, "In particular, I believe we were the first restaurant group in New York City that put in place a 24-hour employee hotline operated by a third party."
E! News has reached out to Batali's lawyer for comment and has not heard back.
In the July 23 press release, Juliana Imperati said she and her female coworkers were sexually harassed by multiple people at Del Posto during her time as a line cook. "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," Imperati said. "This settlement is an important step in holding the powerful accountable."
A former server at Del Posto, Brianna Pintens said that she "endured constant, escalating sexual harassment" throughout her employment at the 10th Avenue eatery.
"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," Pintens shared, in part. "My time working for B&B permanently tarnished my goals and passions for hospitality."
According to the Attorney General, more than 20 employees (both male and female) were sexually harassed by Batali, restaurant managers and coworkers between 2016 to 2019. They allegedly experienced "unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching and sexually explicit comments." Multiple women were "forcibly groped, hugged and/or kissed" by men they worked with, it states.
The AG accused Batali of sexually harassing a female server by making "explicit comments" to her, as well as grabbing her hand and pulling it "towards his crotch" while she served him. Batali also allegedly showed an "unwelcome pornographic video" to a male server at his Lupa restaurant, per the press release.
Batali, who starred in Iron Chef America for eight years, is still involved in a separate sexual assault case in Boston. In 2019, the Ciao America with Mario Batali alum pleaded not guilty to a claim he kissed and groped a woman in 2017 at a Boston restaurant. His trial readiness conference is set for Sept. 15, when a trial start date will be discussed, the clerk of the Boston Municipal Court of Suffolk County told E! News in a statement.
Also in 2019, CNN reported that the New York Police Department closed its investigations into Batali, regarding accusations of sexual harassment and assault from employees of The Spotted Pig in New York, which Batali invested in. He did not face charges.
"I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt," Batali said in a statement E! News after Eater published an exposé about him in 2017. "Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family."
As for Bastianich, he has served as a judge on MasterChef for the past 11 years. He is a judge on Italia's Got Talent, former presenter on Top Gear Italia and former guest on Lidia's Family Table, which stars his mother, the cookbook author and TV chef Lidia Bastianich.