The Spotted Pig, known by many as the “Pig,” is one of New York City’s most acclaimed restaurants. It’s chef, and co-owner April Bloomfield was Food & Wine’s best new chef in 2017. She and the restaurant are James Beard Award winners. The Pig is a Michelin star rated restaurant known for its celebrity clientele, amazing food, and casual chic atmosphere. Her co-owner Ken Friedman is the latest New York restauranteur facing accusations from as many as ten female employees. They spoke to the New York Times and gave reports of sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination.
According to the story, the women gave details of unwanted sexual advances by Friedman. Many said that their jobs at the Pig required them to tolerate “daily kisses and touches, pulling all-night shifts at private parties that included public sex and nudity, and enduring catcalls and gropes from guests who are Mr. Friedman’s friends.” The third-floor VIP room where the inappropriate behavior tended to occur received the nickname “the rape room” from much of the staff.
The women also claim that Friedman retaliated against employees who complained by firing them or telling other restaurants not to hire them. His power in the industry is well known. He allegedly bragged about “blacklisting” people. One of the alleged victims, server Trish Nelson, told the Times that when she confronted Bloomfield with her complaints, the chef told her to “Get used to it. Or go work for someone else.”
Sexual harassment can be many things; inappropriate, humiliating, physically abusive, embarrassing, and a long list of other adjectives. It can also be illegal under federal, state and city laws.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on, among other things, sex. Many years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that sexual harassment is an unlawful form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment that violates Title VII must be pervasive or severe. Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about sexual harassment in the workplace.
New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) also prohibit sexual harassment and retaliation. The federal law applies to employers who have 15 or more employees. The sexual harassment provisions in NYSHRL apply to ALL employers in New York, no matter how few employees they have. This means all employees in our state have legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment can occur in different ways. It can include:
Sexual harassment may involve a superior and subordinate or co-workers and colleagues of equal standing. Although people of all genders may be victims, women make up the greatest number of employees who experience sexual harassment. If the news is any indication, it may be difficult to find a female employee who has not experienced some form of harassment in the workplace.
The Washington Post reported that in 2015, over 12% of sexual harassment complaints filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) came from those working in hotel and food jobs. Perhaps more startling is the information gathered by The Restaurant Opportunities Center United. In their 2014 survey, the organization found that:
In 2017 numerous celebrity chefs and restaurateurs have been accused of sexual harassment in their establishments. Johnny Iuzzini, John Besh, and Todd English to name a few. Mario Batali, an investor and frequent customer at the Pig, stepped away from his television show and restaurant group in the wake of serious allegations of sexual harassment or assault by four women. But, a restaurant does not have to have famous people at its helm to be ripe for sexual harassment and misconduct.
Many men accused of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry place part of the blame on the historical “bro culture” of the kitchen. Aggressive male chefs, late work nights, alcohol, and sharing meals may blur the lines between professional and personal. For the women serving food, the drive for tips or better shifts often results in tolerating inappropriate sexual misconduct from customers and managers. The desire to secure a place in a male-dominated industry in which you depend on recommendations from your superiors results in pressure to accept sexual harassment as “part of the job.”
Sexual harassment should not be part of any job. Sadly, that is how many women feel about working in restaurants. They report hearing “excuses” such as:
Until recently, there seemed a true unwillingness of female restaurant employees to name their harassers and share their stories. The dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, along with the #metoo movement have given many victims the courage to speak up and hold the alleged harassers accountable. Many famous names within the restaurant industry have spoken publicly in support of the women who have recently come forward. There seems to be an acknowledgment of the problem and the need for change.
Friedman has stepped away from managing the Spotted Pig and his other restaurants, taking an “indefinite leave,” according to Eater.com. Bloomfield released a statement on Twitter acknowledging that she did not do enough to help her female employees. She added, “Our industry has work to do, and that work has already begun.”
Do you work in one of the thousands of restaurants or hotels in New York City or the surrounding metropolitan area? The Spotted Pig is not the only eatery where sexual harassment is happening.
If your job or career is being affected by sexual harassment, consider calling the attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. Our sexual harassment attorneys, helping women in New York City, and across the country, are available for a free consultation by calling 1-800-585-4658.
If you are sexually harassed at work, you don’t have to handle things alone. Call Leeds Brown and receive professional, compassionate, and personal service from sexual harassment attorneys who get results.