May 21, 2018
by Colleen McGregor
New York-based celebrity restaurateurs Mario Batali and Ken Friedman have been accused of sexual assault, and Batali is under criminal investigation for it, according to the CBS News program “60 Minutes.” The program televised a bombshell report on May 20, 2018, alleging that Batali committed sex crimes and sexual harassment over the course of many years. The “60 Minutes” report featured interviews with several former employees of The Spotted Pig, a New York City restaurant co-owned by Friedman and frequented by Batali. Although many of the accusers’ claims were first reported by the New York Times in December 2017, the “60 Minutes” report includes new details about Batali’s alleged sexual assault against one of his former employees.
The accuser, who wished to remain anonymous, claims that Batali sexually assaulted her at The Spotted Pig in 2005, when she used to work for him at Batali’s restaurant Babbo. She says Batali invited her to The Spotted Pig, and she believes she was drugged without her knowledge and consent because she vomited and felt disoriented before passing out. She alleges that before she passed out, she remembered Batali kissing her. The former Babbo employee woke up to injuries on her body, knowing that something sexual had happened to her without her consent because she found semen stains on her skirt. She says that when she confronted Batali about the alleged assault, he said nothing. Although the accuser says she went to police and even had a rape-kit test done on her, she ultimately decided not to file a police report against Batali, out of fear of retaliation and because she feared there wasn’t enough proof that any sexual acts he may have committed were without her consent. (On a semi-related note, Babbo fired executive chef Frank Langello in January 2018, after he was accused of sexual misconduct, according to the restaurant-industry website Eater. Langello had worked at Babbo for more than 17 years.)
Another woman, who also wants to remain anonymous, is claiming that Batali drugged and raped her at Babbo in 2004. The New York Times reports that the New York Police Department is also investigating this accusation against Batali.
Batali is denying the claims of sexual assault, but in December 2017, he acknowledged and made a public apology for sexually inappropriate conduct against many of his female employees and colleagues. The apology came when Eater published an article exposing Batali’s alleged misdeeds. He was subsequently fired as a co-host of ABC’s “The Chew,” and he announced that he was stepping away from his businesses. Friedman did the same thing around the same time: He made a public apology for his behavior, and he stepped down from his businesses; he is denying that he committed any non-consensual sex acts.
A subsequent report published by Eater in December 2017 detailed allegations of rampant sexual misconduct at restaurants owned by Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, the company co-founded by Batali, Joe Bastianich and Joe’s mother Lidia Bastianich. Joe Bastianich (who is a judge on Fox’s “MasterChef”) was named by several former anonymous employees as a deliberate enabler/participant in the sexually abusive behavior, which accusers claim was happening for about 20 years.
After the “60 Minutes” report aired, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group (which owns 28 restaurants worldwide) issued a statement saying that it is in the process of ending the company’s involvement with Batali.
Here is Batali’s statement to “60 Minutes” about the claim that he sexually assaulted a Babbo employee in 2005 while she was unconscious: “I vehemently deny the allegation that I sexually assaulted this woman. My past behavior has been deeply inappropriate and I am sincerely remorseful for my actions. I am not attempting a professional comeback. My only focus is finding a personal path forward—a path where I can continue my charitable endeavors—helping the underprivileged and those in need.”
The former Spotted Pig employees who told their stories to “60 Minutes” did not remain anonymous. They include former waitresses Trish Nelson, Carla Rza Betts and Natalie Saibel, as well as former manager Jamie Seet and former bartender Erin Fein. They all said that Batali and/or Friedman frequently harassed them physically and verbally. Seet claims that she witnessed Batali sexually assaulting a woman by putting his hands in or on her genital area while she seemed to be unconscious. This alleged assault was caught on surveillance video, and Seet claims that she and other Spotted Pig employees saw the video, but they did not report it to the police. This was a story she also told to the New York Times. Fein claims that Friedman groped and kissed her without her consent while they were in his car in 2014, and then ordered her not to tell anyone. Nelson also claims that Friedman did the same thing to her.
As for why the accusers did not file formal complaints, they all said that it was common knowledge that Batali’s and Friedman’s power in the close-knit restaurant industry meant that the two men could destroy the careers of anyone who spoke out against them. And if any incidents of harassment or abuse were reported to supervisors at The Spotted Pig, former employees say that nothing was done about the problem, because Friedman was one of the alleged perpetrators. For example, Seet told “60 Minutes” that Batali had grabbed her breasts while she was on the job, but when she told Friedman about it, he laughed and dismissed her concerns. According to “60 Minutes,” The Spotted Pig, which opened in 2004, did not have a human resources department until 2017.
Seet also claimed that Friedman “blacklisted” her when she tried to find a job at another restaurant. In one example, she says that she had a job offer rescinded, and was told that she wasn’t hired for the job because of Friedman. All the accusers say that rampant sexual harassment isn’t just a problem for The Spotted Pig and the restaurant industry but for society as a whole, especially in places where there are very few women in power.
But even having a woman in power doesn’t guarantee a safe working environment. April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig chef who co-founded the restaurant with Friedman, issued a statement to “60 Minutes” saying that she regrets not doing more to protect her employees, and that she is in the process of ending her partnership with Friedman.
Dozens of famous and powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct since the #MeToo movement became a major cultural force in late 2017. Many of the accused have lost their jobs and have been sued in civil cases, but criminal cases against them have been rare, since the required burden of proof is much larger in order for a criminal case to make it to court. Entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons are all reportedly under criminal investigations for sex crimes, and it remains to be seen what the outcomes of those investigations will be.*
Disgraced actor/comedian Bill Cosby is the only celebrity in several years who has been convicted of a felony sex crime. His conviction, which took place in April 2018, was for the 2004 rape of Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University’s women’s basketball team.
*May 25, 2018 UPDATE: Harvey Weinstein was arrested for felony sexual assault in New York City. He has pled not guilty.