Celebrity Chef Mike Isabella Sued for Sexual Harassment

A former female Operations
Director at Mike Isabella Concepts (MIC), a chain of restaurants owned and
operated by celebrity chef Mike Isabella, filed a lawsuit against the company
and its partners alleging that they violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
by creating and perpetuating a hostile work
environment against women
in the workplace.

Mike Isabella is a
Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur, honored in 2016 by the Restaurant
Association of Metropolitan Washington as Restaurateur of the Year. Isabella
owns the Italian-inspired small plates restaurant, Graffiato,
Greek concepts Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, and Kapnos Kouzina, as well as
G, a sandwich shop by day that transforms into an Italian restaurant in the
evenings, and a Mexican cantina called Pepita.

According to the lawsuit,
Isabella along with other male chefs and senior executives, maintained and
condoned a “bro culture” at the restaurants whereby women were
frequently targeted with unwelcome touching and sexual advances.  The Complaint specifically alleges that
Isabella allowed company partners and other male restaurant employees to
assault female employees for years, without consequence. The former employee
claims that Isabella himself grabbed and touched female employees, including
herself, in an aggressive, sexually degrading and unwelcome manner. The lawsuit
also claims that Isabella refused to help the former employee when she
complained about the harassment directed at her, and ignored complaints other
employees raised about male chefs regularly subjecting female wait staff to
sexual harassment.

The lawsuit further
alleges that the restaurants retaliated against the former Operations Director
by firing her after she objected to sexually unwelcome comments made by an
intoxicated Isabella who, in front of other employees, suggested to an MIC chef
that he have sex with her. According to the lawsuit, “MIC continued its
retaliatory campaign against her by opposing her entitlement to unemployment
compensation benefits, by false telling the Virginia Employment Commission that
she had abandoned her post, and thereafter by pressuring MIC employees to sign
false statements to that effect.”

In addition to the sexual
harassment and retaliation allegations, the lawsuit alleges that MIC forced
low-wage employees to sign overly broad nondisclosure agreements (NDA) as a
condition of their employment. The NDA forbids employees from revealing details
about the personal and business lives of Isabella, his family, friends and
associates and dealings, and says nothing about employees’ right to report
sexual harassment to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The lawsuit
claims that the NDA helped create a sexually hostile work environment at MIC as
it subjected employees, including wait staff earning $3.33 an hour plus tips,
to a penalty of $500,000 plus attorneys’ fees for each breach of
“confidential information” for the employee’s lifetime, according to
the suit.


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