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New York AG finds restaurateur Ken Friedman created ‘hostile workplace’ for women, now investigating Mario Batali


Ken Friedman, owner of the famed Spotted Pig gastropub in New York, will pay $240,000 to 11 former employees who accused him of sexual harassment and give them a share of the restaurant’s profits for 10 years under a settlement secured by the New York attorney general.

Attorney General Letitia James announced the agreement at a Tuesday news conference in which she also said her office has opened a separate investigation into celebrity chef Mario Batali, who was an investor in the Spotted Pig and whose own alleged sexual harassment was documented in the probe of Friedman.

“We have received credible information and are separately looking into him, his business partner, his management company and his three restaurants,” James said of Batali. She also asked anyone who was a witness to or a victim of Batali’s alleged abuse to contact her office’s hotline.

Rape in the storage room. Groping at the bar. Why is the restaurant industry so terrible for women?

In announcing the settlement her office negotiated with Friedman — which was first reported by the New York Times — James sounded a warning. “No matter how high-profile the establishment or how seemingly powerful the owner is, this settlement reiterates that we will not tolerate sexual harassment of any type in the workplace and that no one, no one is above the law,” said James, who was joined by five former Spotted Pig employees at her news conference announcing the agreement.

Several of those employees became emotional, apparently gratified that the nationwide #MeToo movement had resulted in action in the restaurant industry, where sexual harassment has traditionally been rampant.

“We are not disposable, we are valuable,” said Trish Nelson, who oversaw celebrity parties and waited on VIP clientele.

“Today is the day we get justice and we get our dignity back,” said Jamie Seet, a former oyster shucker who rose to assistant manager. “I’m proud that one day I get to tell my daughter that Mommy and her friends spoke their truth and played a part in changing the paradigm on how women are treated at work.”

The attorney general’s investigation, which began after news reports in late 2017 and 2018, found that the Spotted Pig was a “hostile workplace where female employees were subjected to severe and pervasive incidents of unwanted touching and unwelcome sexual advances” by Friedman and Batali. The two men groped female employees and made sexual advances and comments toward them, the attorney general’s investigation found. Friedman forcibly kissed women “on multiple occasions,” sent unwelcome texts and emails, and requested nude photos from his employees, it concluded. The employees also witnessed sexual activity and assaults by Batali in the restaurant, according to the probe.

Under the agreement, which was first reported by the New York Times, Friedman will formally step down from operations and management of the restaurant, and Batali — who has divested his onetime restaurant empire — will have no future role in running it. Friedman will share 20 percent of his profits from the restaurant, of which he is the majority owner, through 2029, per the terms. A representative for Friedman could not estimate what that share might be.

Mario Batali sells his stake in his restaurants, more than a year after sexual harassment allegations

In an emailed statement, Friedman was contrite, though he said he disputed some of the claims but did not specify which. “I’m sorry for the harm I have caused, and for being part of an environment where women were afraid to speak up,” he wrote. “I will spend the rest of my life regretting my actions, and trying to be someone worthy of the respect and love of my family.

“While I am aware that nothing will completely repair the damage I’ve caused, and although I disagree with several of the allegations, I hope this agreement will bring some comfort to those former employees impacted by my behavior,” he continued.

Police in New York dropped investigations into three accusations of sexual assault by Batali — two at the Spotted Pig and one at Batali’s former restaurant Babbo — because of insufficient evidence, according to news reports last year. Batali also has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery after a woman accused him of groping her in a Boston bar. Calls to Batali on Tuesday were not returned. The attorney general’s office has begun looking into Batali’s actions at his former New York restaurants, Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto.

An investigation by The Washington Post in 2017 revealed a pattern of inappropriate behavior by Batali at his Los Angeles restaurant Mozza, as well as Babbo and the Spotted Pig.

The document outlining the New York settlement paints a harrowing picture of what it was like to work for Friedman at the West Village hotspot. Employees who complained about the sexual harassment were ignored or retaliated against, investigators found. According to the document outlining the findings, Friedman “repeatedly told a female employee that he had a threesome with her mother” and often “commented on the bodies of female employees.”

One woman filed a formal complaint alleging that Friedman had groped her, and three months later, she and her husband were fired for “pretextual reasons,” the probe found. In other instances, Friedman ordered a manager to fire another employee who complained about him (for nonsexual reasons), it says, and called the new employer of a woman who had left the Spotted Pig and complained about her, causing her to lose the job before she started.

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