Last month, Chloe Caras, a former manager for Mike Isabella, filed a lawsuit against the celebrity chef in D.C. Superior Court. Since then, that suit was dismissed by her lawyers to file a new one at the federal level.
As reported by “The Washington Post,” an expanded lawsuit filed in federal court this week by Caras’ lawyers alleges that Isabella’s company used non-disclosure agreements to discourage employees from speaking out about sexual harassment.
The NDAs, which involve a $500,000 penalty every time the agreement is breached, have caused that many witnesses to the hostile and sexually charged work environment— allegedly fostered by Mike Isabella and his business partners (Taha Ismail, Yohan Allender, George Pagonis, and Nicholas Pagonis)—speak in anonymity.
Caras’ lawsuit states that “women generally do not make it into the higher management ranks of Mr. Isabella’s establishments” and when she did “she became the target of extraordinary sex-based hostility and abuse.”
The relationship went sour when Caras was made to feel uncomfortable by an inappropriate comment by Chef Isabella. On December 5, Caras alleges she was fired after the celebrity chef got upset when she walked away after Isabella told a sous chef to sleep with her. “I told him to stop, and he immediately got angry,” Caras told “The Washington Post.”
“These allegations are false, petty, and lack context. I want to be clear: We do not condone the hostile work environment implied in these allegations,” said Isabella in a statement as reported by the “Washington Post.”
Since the first suit was filed on March 19, many current and former employees along with independent eyewitnesses (over 25 people, total) have been interviewed by “The Washington Post” in anonymity about the culture of Isabella’s businesses based on fear of getting sued.
What Caras is seeking is for the court to release people from the broad NDAs that are preventing them from speaking publicly about their job to family, friends, and the media.
“These NDAs have been one of the tools that companies use to allow serial harassers to stay in place, without any kind of ability for people to speak out,” Debra Katz, an employment lawyer in the District who is representing Caras told “The Washington Post.”
With these sexual harassment allegations, Mike Isabella joins a group of men— including Charlie Hallowell, Todd English, Mario Batali, John Besh, Eric Korsh and Junsoo Bae— who have allegedly fostered an abusive company culture towards women.
To learn more about the case read “The Washington Post.” To learn about how a company can better manage its team, check out this Barron Report where Foodable talks to Carrie Luxem, a human resources guru.