Is New York’s restaurant industry ready to tackle its problem of sexual harassment? | New York

The Spotted Pig, the 100-seat gastropub in New York’s trendy West Village, is under renovation. It was, until the restaurant closed in 2020, the site of an infamous third-floor room called the “rape room” by several employees who claimed the private dining enclave was zero for sexual harassment by management.

The rape room lives on as a dark symbolic story in the city’s hospitality. Mario Batali, the well-known chef and investor in Spotted Pig, was a frequent guest and also accused of criminal behavior on the third floor, including groping and kissing a woman who appeared unconscious in 2008.

“We called him the red threat,” Trish Nelson, a former server, told the New York Times. “He tried to touch my breasts and told me they were beautiful. He wanted to be broken. When I served drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend’s face.”

Last week, Batali, 61, was found not guilty of indecent assault and violence following a speedy trial in Boston in a case unrelated to the Spotted Pig charges. Batali had waived his right to have a jury decide his fate in a criminal case that arose from the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Judge James Stanton of Boston Municipal Court agreed with Batali’s lawyers that prosecutor Natali Tene, 32, who said Batali forcibly kissed and grabbed her during a late-night selfie session at a Boston bar in April 2017, was not entirely credible. witness.

But the judge also reprimanded Batali. “It is an understatement to say that Mr Batali did not cover himself in glory that evening. His demeanor, his appearance and his demeanor did not suit a public figure of his stature at the time.”

Celebrity chef Mario Batali reacts after being found not guilty of indecent assault and violence during his trial at Boston Municipal Court. Photo: Stuart Cahill / EPA

The prosecutor in the case, Kevin Hayden, said he was disappointed with the verdict, but grateful that Tene had come forward. “It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to uncover a sexual assault,” Hayden said, adding that when the perpetrator was “in a position of power or fame, the decision to report an assault can become even more challenging and intimidating.”

The outcome of the Batali trial has drawn attention to the issue of harassment in the US hospitality business, even though Tene was a customer – not an employee – at the bar where the interaction took place.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said the abuse she experienced as a bartender at the Coffee Shop, a now-closed bar-restaurant on Union Square known for hiring models and actors, prepared her for political life in Washington.

“When you work in the service industry as a woman, you are harassed continually. It’s just part of your job, ”Ocasio-Cortez once told the Hollywood Reporter. “You are often spoken to in a way that is very classic. You will be treated like a servant. So you really get used to navigating that dynamic. “

According to a study by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) published by One Fair Wage in January 2021, 71% of female workers had been sexually harassed at least once during their time in the restaurant industry – the highest of all industry reporting statistics.

Complaints about harassment come more often to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from employees in the restaurant industry than from any other sector.

In the SSRS survey, 44% stated that they had been subjected to sexual harassment by a person in a management or ownership role, and sexual harassment occurred at a rate that was much higher for staff receiving tips – ie. service personnel – than their counterparts without gratuity.

The employee with tips was more likely to be treated in sexist ways; more likely to be targeted with sexually aggressive and degrading behavior; received more persistent and intrusive sexual attention, and was more likely to be forced or threatened with sexual activity , ”The report states.

A recent survey found that 44% of female restaurant workers said they had been victims of sexual harassment from a person in a management or ownership role.
A recent survey found that 44% of female restaurant workers said they had been victims of sexual harassment from a person in a management or ownership role. Photo: Bloomberg / Getty Images

Tip workers were also more likely than their non-tip counterparts to say they had been encouraged to “just forget it”, and pretty much everyone said they had experienced some form of retaliation to say no.

“Sexual harassment is rampant in the restaurant industry. The stakes are high, as restaurant jobs can be high-paying and difficult to get hold of. So when food service workers are sexually harassed, they often do not complain for fear of retaliation,” said Eric Baum, New York’s attorney. represents Tene in her civil claims against Batali.

Baum says laws on sexual harassment that protect restaurant workers are not often enforced. “Therefore, many restaurant managers and supervisors believe that the strict standards prohibiting sexual harassment do not apply to them.”

A study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Penn State University and Emlyon Business School in France showed that reliance on tips, combined with the job description “service with a smile”, created a direct link to harassment.

In the Batali case, prosecutor Nina Bonelli said Tene had tried to “de-escalate” the unwanted touch by simply “smiling it off” in the photos. “The kiss, the fumble. She never asked for it. She has never given her consent, ”she said. “She just wanted a selfie.”

Batali’s acquittal in the Boston case follows the New York Attorney General’s conclusion that Batali and his business partner Joseph Bastianich, their management company B&B Hospitality and their New York restaurants Babbo, Lupa and the now closed Del Posto promoted a hostile work environment that allowed a sexualized culture of abuse and harassment.

Under an agreement last year, Batali, Bastianich and the company agreed to pay $ 600,000 to at least 20 former employees. “Celebrity and fame do not exempt anyone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable to anyone anywhere – no matter how powerful the perpetrator is,” State Attorney Letitia James said.

Batali had previously apologized and acknowledged that the allegations “match” with the way he had acted. “I have made many mistakes,” he said in a newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”

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