Friday, 20 May 2022

Is New York’s restaurant sector ready to tackle its sexual harassment problem?

Is New York’s restaurant sector ready to tackle its sexual harassment problem?


Is New York’s restaurant sector ready to tackle its sexual harassment problem?

The Spotted Pig, the 100-seat gastropub 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 that the private dining enclave was ground zero for sexual harassment by management.

The rape room lives on as a darkly symbolic story in the city's hospitality business. Mario Batali, the celebrity chef and investor in 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 called him the Red Menace," Trish Nelson, a former server, told the New York Times. "He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to 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 after a swift trial in Boston in a case unrelated to the Spotted Pig accusations. Batali had waived his right to have a jury decide his fate in a criminal case that arose from the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Judge James Stanton of Boston municipal court agreed with Batali's lawyers that the accuser, Natali Tene, 32, who said Batali forcibly kissed and grabbed her during a late-night selfie session at a Boston bar in April 2017, was not an entirely credible witness.

But the judge also rebuked Batali. "It's an understatement to say that Mr Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question. His conduct, his appearance and his demeanor were not befitting of a public person of his stature at that time."

The 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 all the more challenging and intimidating".

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