Celebrity chef Mario Batali’s trial on sexual misconduct allegations opens on Monday in Boston after it was delayed by the pandemic.
Batali, 61, pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to a charge of indecent assault and battery after a woman accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her at a Boston restaurant in 2017.
The woman alleged that Batali saw her taking a photo of him at the now-defunct Towne Stove and Spirits restaurant and invited her to take a selfie with him.
She said Batali then groped one of her breasts and her buttocks and groin, and kissed her face repeatedly without her consent.
It is the first criminal charge levied against Batali following sexual harassment and assault allegations that first surfaced in April 2017 amid the #MeToo movement.
Batali is expected to be in court throughout the trial, starting with jury selection on Monday in Boston Municipal Court. The proceedings should last about two days once jury selection is complete, said Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office.
If convicted, Batali could face up to two-and-a-half years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender.
Mario Batali, 61, pleaded not guilty in May 2019 (pictured outside the municipal court in Boston after entering his plea in 2019) to a charge of indecent assault and battery after a woman accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her at a Boston restaurant in 2017
Lawyers for Batali didn’t comment ahead of the start of jury selection Monday in Boston Municipal Court. The chef’s lawyers have previously said the charge is without merit.
His accuser has also filed a civil lawsuit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for ‘severe emotional distress’ that’s still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. Her lawyer didn’t respond to emails Friday.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced a public reckoning during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
The 61-year-old was once a Food Network fixture on shows like ‘Molto Mario’ and ‘Iron Chef America.’ But the ponytail- and orange Croc-wearing personality’s high-flying career crumbled amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, after which he stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left the since-discontinued ABC cooking show ‘The Chew.’
Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging the allegations ‘match up’ with ways he has acted.
‘I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team,’ he said in an email newsletter at the time. ‘My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.’
Last year, Batali, his former business partner Joe Bastianich and their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office into allegations that Batali, restaurant managers and other workers sexually harassed employees.
They agreed to pay the $600,000 settlement to the 20 men and women who said they were sexually harassed while working at their restaurants.
The woman alleged that Batali (pictured in the Eataly in 2010) saw her taking a photo of him at the now-defunct Towne Stove and Spirits restaurant and invited her to take a selfie with him. She said Batali then groped one of jer breasts and her buttocks and groin, and kissed her face repeatedly without her consent
The New York attorney general office’s investigation found a culture rife with sexual harassment at the Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto, which closed permanently in April 2021, with employees reporting that managers and colleagues groped them, kissed them against their will, or made sexual comments.
Some female employees said they were told to wear makeup and even to get breast implants, and that male colleagues would tell them to get on their knees or discuss the attributes of their mouths.
Victims who came forward said they wanted to see a change in the restaurant industry, where they say that all too often sexual harassment is viewed as routine or mere horseplay.
‘Sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation should never be normalized in any industry or workplace,’ said Juliana Imperati, a former line cook at Del Posto, in a statement.
‘When my female coworkers and I were being sexually harassed by multiple people at Del Posto, the restaurant’s leadership made us feel as if we were asking for it — as if it is a rite of passage to be harassed at work,’ she added.
Mario Batali (left) and his former business partner Joe Bastianich (right) appear with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Eataly’s grand opening
Female employees also complained that chefs and managers blatantly favored male employees and made misogynistic comments degrading women in the workplace.
One manager referred to several female employees in front of dining guests as ‘little girl’ and ‘sensitive,’ and said that ‘females should not work in the mezzanine,’ which was a main part of the restaurant, according to the report.
‘Throughout the course of my employment at Del Posto, I endured constant, escalating sexual harassment,’ said Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, in a statement.
‘Management routinely ignored these behaviors, made excuses for the perpetrators, and often used victim blaming as a way to avoid having to deal with a workplace culture rooted in fear and humiliation,’ she added.
In Boston, Batali opened a branch of the popular Italian food marketplace Eataly in the downtown Prudential Center in 2016 as well as a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District in 2015.
Batali has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations worldwide including in Boston, and the Babbo restaurant in the city has since closed.