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Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello Hit With Sexual Harassment Lawsuit [Update]

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WARNING: the following article contains graphic language

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Michael Chiarello
Michael Chiarello

This morning, two lawsuits were filed against celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and his restaurant group Gruppo Chiarello, which includes Coqueta in San Francisco and Bottega Ristorante in Yountville. The lawsuit, alleging sexual harassment and labor violations, was filed by Katherine Page and Asja Sever, two former employees of Coqueta, and outlines a series of alleged abuses during their employment.

In the lawsuit, Page and Sever detail several alleged instances in which Chiarello, Coqueta's executive chef Dominick Maietta and other management level employees of Coqueta created an alleged "sexually charged, hostile and abusive environment."

Examples include:

[Chiarello] directed COQUETA managers to employ the following hiring policy: "If you don't want to fuck them, don't hire them."

CHEF CHIARELLO also regularly made sexual comments about female customers to his employees. For example, CHEF CHIARELLO informed another server that two female customers had left "snail trails" in their seats after speaking to CHEF CHIARELLO, implying that the women became sexually aroused after talking to CHEF CHIARELLO and left wet stains from their genitals on their chairs. More recently, in November 2015, CHEF CHIARELLO, in SEVER's presence and during one of his regular visits to COQUETA, held a baguette up to his crotch while making stroking motions over the bread with his hands in an overtly sexual manner. Both PAGE and SEVER have witnessed CHEF CHIARELLO inappropriately touch, caress and stare at women in a sexual manner in the twelve months preceding the filing of this Complaint.

Executive chef Maietta's conduct has also been called into question, and he is listed as a defendant alongside Chiarello.

CHEF MAIETTA similarly harassed other COQUETA employees in this manner further adding to the hostile work environment experienced by PAGE and SEVER. One night, for example, CHEF MAIETTA was due to cook for a famous actress who could not tolerate milk, cream, or dairy products in her food. One of the servers relayed this information to CHEF MAIETTA, who replied, "Oh yeah? Why don't you go ask her if she can have Chef's cream?" implying that the server should go ask the actress whether she could consume ejaculate. Later on in the meal, CHEF MAIETTA stated that he would like to "whip up some of Chef's cum ice cream for her pretty face," implying that he would like to ejaculate on the actress's face. Shortly thereafter, a female manager quit in disgust stating to another server that she could not tolerate CHEF MAIETTA's disrespect for women and his view of female employees as second class citizens.

According to the complaints, the alleged harassment extended to servers of all orientations and genders.

For example, on or about September 28, 2015, a former gay male server was in the COQUETA restroom when he heard continuous knocks on the door and vigorous shaking of the door handle. When he exited the restroom, the former server found CHEF CHIARELLO standing outside. CHEF CHIARELLO asked, "Were you in there taking care of someone?" implying that the former server was sexually servicing someone in the bathroom. Approximately an hour later, CHEF CHIARELLO approached the former server and asked, "What were you doing in the bathroom, rubbing one out?" implying that he was masturbating in the bathroom. Later, during the same service, CHEF CHIARELLO approached this server from behind, rubbed his genitals and torso against his backside and reached around to pinch and twist his nipples. CHEF CHIARELLO then leaned in towards his ear and stated, "I'm getting myself ready to go home to my boyfriend."

Also from the court document:

For example, CHEF CHIARELLO frequently made inappropriate statements to the entire staff, including PAGE and SEVER, such as, "Martinis are like tits. One is too few, three is too many". On at least one occasion, he compared a new sandwich on the COQUETA menu to a vagina by stating that the sandwich looked liked a "woman's underparts" while making a triangle with his hands and placing it over his crotch.

Additionally, a class-action suit was filed alleging that the restaurant failed to pay wages and overtime, manipulated clocks and timesheets and forced front of the house employees to pool their tips with the kitchen staff.

See the legal documents in full below:

Class Complaint

UPDATED 3/16/16 with a statement from Michael Chiarello's publicist:

Mr. Chiarello is very upset by the allegations made by two former employees. The allegations are not only upsetting to him, they are also against his core beliefs.

Mr. Chiarello strongly believes that a great restaurant cannot really be great without an outstanding team. Throughout his career, he has served as a mentor to the people who work with him and helped them climb the ladder in their careers. This claim flies in the face of who Mr. Chiarello is and how he has lived his life. Mr. Chiarello is the son of immigrant family, a true American success story, who became the acclaimed chef he is today by using the skills he learned from watching his mother cook when he was a young boy and caring about the people with whom he worked.

We are also disappointed that neither Coqueta nor Mr. Chiarello were provided a copy of the lawsuit prior to the former employees' attorneys sending it to the media. Mr. Chiarello intends to vigorously defend himself, his reputation and his team against these unfounded claims in a court of law.