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Jhe Spotted Pig, the 100-seat gastropub in New York’s trendy West Village, is undergoing renovations. It was, until the restaurant closed in 2020, the site of a notorious third-floor space dubbed “the rape room” by several employees who claimed the private dining enclave was ground zero for harassment. sexual on the part of management.

The rape room lives on as a dark symbolic history in the city’s hospitality industry. Mario Batali, the celebrity chef and investor of Spotted Pig, was a frequent visitor and also accused of criminal behavior on the third floor, including groping and kissing a woman who appeared to be unconscious in 2008.

“We called it the red menace,” Trish Nelson, a former waiter, told The New York Times. “He tried to touch my boobs and told me they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks at his table, he told me that I had to sit on his friend’s face .

Batali, 61, was found not guilty of indecent assault and assault last week after 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 born out of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Boston City Court Judge James Stanton agreed with Batali’s attorneys that the accuser, Natali Tene, 32, who said Batali kissed and forcibly grabbed her during a selfie session late in the night at a Boston bar in April 2017, was not a fully credible witness.

But the judge also reprimanded Batali. “It is an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question. His conduct, appearance and demeanor were not befitting a public figure of his stature at that time.

Is New York’s restaurant industry ready to tackle its sexual harassment problem?  |  New York
Celebrity chef Mario Batali reacts after being found not guilty of indecent assault and assault during his trial in Boston City Court. Photograph: Stuart Cahill/EPA

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

The outcome of the Batali lawsuit has brought attention to the issue of harassment in the US hospitality industry, although Tene was a patron – not an employee – of the bar where the interaction occurred.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the abuse she suffered as a bartender at the Coffee Shop, a now-closed bar and restaurant on Union Square notorious for employing models and actors, set her up to political life in Washington.

“When you work in the service sector as a woman, you are harassed All the time. It’s part of your job,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Hollywood Reporter. “You are often spoken to in a very classist way. You are treated like a servant. So you really get used to navigating those dynamics.

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

Harassment complaints come to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for workers in the restaurant industry more often than in any other sector.

In the SSRS survey, 44% said they had been sexually harassed by someone in a management or owner position, and sexual harassment occurred at a much higher rate for staff at tipped – ie service staff – than to their non-tipped counterparts.

“Tipped workers were more likely to be treated in a sexist way; more likely to be the target of sexually aggressive and degrading behavior; received more persistent and intrusive sexual attention, and were more likely to be coerced or threatened into sexual activity,” the report states.

Is New York’s restaurant industry ready to tackle its sexual harassment problem?  |  New York
A recent survey found that 44% of female restaurant workers said they had experienced sexual harassment from someone in a management or owner position. Photography: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tipped workers were also more likely than their untipped counterparts to say they had been encouraged to “just forget,” and virtually all said they had experienced some form of retaliation for speaking up.

“Sexual harassment is rampant in the restaurant industry. The stakes are high, as restaurant jobs can be high paying and hard to find. So when restaurant workers are sexually harassed, they often don’t complain for fear of retaliation,” said Eric Baum, the New York attorney representing Tene in his civil suit against Batali.

Baum says sexual harassment laws protecting restaurant workers are often not enforced. “As a result, many restaurant managers and supervisors feel that the strict standards prohibiting sexual harassment do not apply to them.”

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

In the Batali case, prosecutor Nina Bonelli said Tene tried to “defuse” unwanted touching by simply “smiling” in the photos. “The kisses, the touching. She never asked for it. She never consented to it,” she said. “She just wanted a selfie.”

Batali’s acquittal in the Boston case follows the New York Attorney General’s finding 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 fostered a hostile work environment that allowed for a sexualized culture of misconduct and harassment.

Under a settlement last year, Batali, Bastianich and the company agreed to pay out $600,000 to at least 20 former employees. “Fame and fame do not exempt someone from respecting the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable to anyone, anywhere – no matter how powerful the perpetrator is,” said Attorney General Letitia James.

Batali had previously apologized, acknowledging that the allegations “corresponded” to the way he had acted. “I made a lot of mistakes,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there is no excuse. I take full responsibility.”

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