TThe Spotted Pig, the 100-seat food pub in New York’s trendy West Village, is under renovation. 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 sexual harassment by management.
The rape room lives on as a dark and symbolic story in the city’s hospitality business. Mario Batali, the famous chef and investor in the 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 call it the Red Menace,” 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 fight. As I was serving drinks at 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 battery following a speedy trial in Boston in a case unrelated to the Spotted Pig charges. Batali has waived his right to have a jury decide his fate in a criminal case that grew out of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.
Boston Municipal 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 late-night selfie session at a Boston bar. as of 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 behavior were not befitting a public person of his stature at that time.”
Prosecutor in the case, Kevin Hayden, said he was disappointed in the verdict but grateful that Tene had come forward. “It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault,” Hayden said, adding that when the perpetrator was “in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become even more challenging and intimidating.”
The outcome of Batali’s trial drew attention to the issue of harassment in the American hotel industry, even though Tene was a customer – not an employee – of the bar where the interaction took place.
New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the abuse she endured as a bartender at the Coffee Shop, a now-closed bar-restaurant in Union Square known for employing models and actors, prepared her for political life in Washington.
“When you work in the service industry as a woman, you are harassed all the time. It’s just part of your job,” Ocasio-Cortez once told the Hollywood Reporter. “Often they talk to you in a way that is very classy. You are treated like a servant. So you really get used to navigating those dynamics.”
According to a survey by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) published by One Fair Wage in January 2021, 71% of female workers have been sexually harassed at least once during their time in the restaurant industry – the highest of all job statistics. industry reports.
Harassment complaints come to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from workers in the restaurant industry more often than any other industry.
In the SSRS survey, 44% said they had been victims of sexual harassment by someone in a management or property role, and sexual harassment occurred at a much higher rate for tipped employees – that is, service employees – than for tipped employees. non-tips.
“Tipped workers were more likely to be treated sexist; 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 said.
Workers who were tipped were also more likely than non-tipped workers to say they were encouraged to “just forget about it,” and virtually all said they suffered some form of retaliation for speaking up.
“Sexual harassment is rampant in the restaurant industry. The stakes are high, as restaurant jobs can be well-paying and hard to come by. So when food service workers are sexually harassed, they usually 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 that protect restaurant workers aren’t often enforced. “Thus, many restaurant managers and supervisors believe that the strict standards that prohibit sexual harassment do not apply to them.”
A study by a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame, Penn State University and the Emlyon Business School in France found that reliance on tips, along with the job description “service with a smile,” created a bond directly with the harassment.
In the Batali case, prosecutor Nina Bonelli said Tene tried to “reduce” unwanted touching by simply “smiling” in the photos. “The kiss, the groping. 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 conclusion of the New York attorney general that Batali and his business partner Joseph Bastianich, his management company B&B Hospitality, and his New York restaurants Babbo, Lupa and the now-closed Del Posto promoted 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 $600,000 to at least 20 former employees. “Celebrity and fame do not absolve someone from following the law. Sexual harassment is unacceptable to anyone, anywhere – no matter how powerful the abuser,” said Attorney General Letitia James.
Batali had previously apologized, acknowledging that the allegations “belong” with the ways in which he acted. “I made a lot of mistakes,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”