When the owner of an establishment is the person engaging in sexual harassment, employee complaints are not going to get far, and they can expect retaliation. That was the case with Ken Friedman, owner of Manhattan’s Spotted Pig Restaurant, located in the West Village.
In January, after about 15 years of “maintaining a hostile and highly sexualized workplace,” Friedman agreed to pay a $240,000 settlement divided among 11 former employees, along with a share of the restaurant’s profits. He formally stepped down from the restaurant’s management.
Friedman never faced criminal charges. He said he would “spend the rest of my life regretting my actions,” adding he denied some of the allegations against him.
Unwanted Touching and Sexual Advances
Female employees often had to deal with unwanted touching and sexual advances perpetrated by Friedman and friends. Friedman also allegedly kissed them with permission and requested sexually explicit photos. If the women complained, Friedman would either fire them or use his influence to ensure they were not hired for other jobs at upscale New York City eateries.
Among the worst offenders was celebrity chef Mario Batali, a former investor in the restaurant who visited it frequently. An employee witnessed Batali groping a “nearly unconscious” woman in a private party room, and he was also caught performing oral sex on a woman in the staff break room.
While the New York City Police Department could not find sufficient evidence to charge Batali, he is currently facing criminal and civil charges in Boston. In this case, he is accused of groping a woman and has pleaded not guilty.
No Human Resources Department
In its prime, the Spotted Pig was a celebrity hangout and with celebrity chef April Bloomfield in the kitchen, diners waited hours for seats. As the female staff endured the predations of Friedman et al., they literally had no one to complain to except the boss. The restaurant had no human resources department, no policies regarding sexual harassment, or any process for reporting complaints.
As part of the settlement, the Spotted Pig will now develop sexual harassment policies, inform employees of their rights, and provide training to employees to prevent such incidents going forward.
One employee says the settlement was a victory in an industry where pervasive sexual harassment has long been common. She said that as a blue-collar woman, her experience had been that dodging abusive behavior by those in power had simply been the norm. A former general manager said after the settlement, the employees not only received justice but also “got their dignity back.”
Profit-Sharing and Business Sale
While a $240,000 settlement divided among 11 people is not that large an amount, the women may reap additional funds in the future. The settlement agreement states that Friedman must pay 20 percent of the Spotted Pigs’ profits over the next decade to the defendants.
Recently, the restaurant has been running in the red. If he decides to sell the business, the defendants receive the money made, and Friedman owns approximately 80 percent of the restaurant.
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