Celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and their New York City restaurant company have agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees who were sexually harassed and retaliated against on the job.
The settlement follows a four-year investigation by the attorney general’s office that “found that B&B, Batali, and Bastianich had engaged in unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, in violation of state and city human rights laws” at their restaurants Babbo, Lupa and the now-closed Del Posto, according to the agreement filed with the court.
In addition to paying the employees, B&B, Batali and Bastianich must revise training materials in B&B restaurants and submit biannual reports, providing proof of training and records of harassment and discrimination.
“Celebrity and fame does not absolve someone from following the law,” James said in a statement. “Sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, anywhere — no matter how powerful the perpetrator.”
Representatives for Batali, Bastianich and B&B did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. Both men’s signatures appeared on the settlement agreement, dated Thursday.
“Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting,” James said. “I thank the men and women who reported this abhorrent behavior for their bravery, selflessness, and commitment to accountability.”
The investigation found that both men and women were harassed, according to James.
“Several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged, and/or kissed by male colleagues,” the attorney general’s office found, according to a press release.
“Batali himself sexually harassed a female server by making explicit comments to her and grabbing her hand while she was serving him and pulling it towards his crotch,” according to the investigation. “On another occasion, Batali showed a male server at Lupa an unwelcome pornographic video.”
Female employees said the male employees were favored. They also said they were told to wear makeup and get breast implants and were referred to in front of customers as “little girl” and “sensitive.”
“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 in response to the settlement agreement.
“Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,” said Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, in a press release from the attorney general’s office. “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,” Pintens said.
Batali was fired from hosting the ABC show “The Chew,” which has since been canceled, in December 2017 after Eater New York published a report in which four women said he had groped them and made inappropriate sexual comments to them.
In a statement at the time, Batali — formerly best known for his orange Crocs, ponytail and vespa — apologized and said the accusations described by the women “match up” with the way he had acted.
In 2018, New York City police said they were investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Batali after a woman told CBS’ “60 Minutes” he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2005. Batali denied assaulting the woman and no charges have been filed.
In 2019, Batali was charged with indecent assault and battery for allegedly forcibly kissing and groping a woman at a Boston restaurant in 2017. He pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.
Anthony Fuller, an attorney speaking on Batali’s behalf, said at the time that the chef denies the allegations in both the criminal and civil complaints brought by the woman in Boston.
“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit. He intends to fight the allegations vigorously, and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali,” Fuller said.
He was bought out of B&B hospitality in March 2019, Bastianich and his sister, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, announced.
Babbo and Lupa are still operated by Bastianich, according to their websites. He currently is a host and judge of “MasterChef” on Fox.
“The past few years have truly been a transformative period,” Bastianich said in a statement to The New York Times. “Including the pandemic, there have been a lot of lessons learned over the past three and a half years, and it has given us an opportunity to redefine our business and the culture we want to foster within our restaurants, emerging as the company we want to be.”
Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather
A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.
The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.
“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.
The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.
In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.
Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.
“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”
The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.
“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”
Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.
More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.
Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.
Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.
The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.
So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.
Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.
“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”
Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park
A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.
The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.
He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.
The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.
The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.
“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”
Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.
The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.
House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight
House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.
The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.
The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.
Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.
“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.
The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.
However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.
Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.
Haley Talbot contributed.
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