On Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced the result of a year-and-a-half-long investigation into sexual harassment and workplace discrimination claims at the Spotted Pig, the New York restaurant revealed to be the site of widespread misconduct in a groundbreaking 2017 New York Times report.
Per the settlement reached, former owner Ken Friedman is severing all remaining ties with restaurant. He has also agreed to pay $240,000 and a share of his profits, shared among 11 former employees who accused him of harassment and unequal treatment. The Attorney General's office found that the restaurant mainted a hostile workplace where women were subjected to "severe and pervasive incidents of unwanted touching and unwelcome sexual advances by Friedman," according to a statement.
"These incidents were reported, but the person in charge also being the perpetrator, nothing was done to seriously address these issues," said James.
The 2017 Times article, which cited several former and current employees, highlighted sexual harassment allegations against Friedman, who co-owned the restaurant with chef April Bloomfield and reportedly retaliated against staff who came forward. The restaurateur has repeatedly denied allegations, which include groping staffers, demanding sex, sending nude photos, and treating female staffers inappropriately. He released a statement on Tuesday regarding the settlement, offering an apology, while continuing to "disagree" with many of the allegations.
"I’m sorry for the harm I have caused, and for being part of an environment where women were afraid to speak up," wrote Friedman. "I will spend the rest of my life regretting my actions, and trying to be someone worthy of the respect and love of my family."
As a result of the investigation launched by the Times article, the New York State attorney general's office found that the restaurant had violated both state and city human-rights laws as far back as 2004.
"No matter how high-profile the establishment, or how seemingly powerful the owners, today’s settlement reiterates the fact that we will not tolerate sexual harassment of any form in the workplace,” said James.
At the Tuesday press conference, former Spotted Pig employee Trish Nelson read a statement about her experience working on the restaurant's third floor, helping run "Jay Z’s weekly Friday night parties," and in the notorious VIP room, where Friedman and Bloomfield would host celebrity guests and friends.
"For many women working within this field, filtering harassment and abusive behaviors has been commonplace," said Nelson, who has worked in the service industry her entire adult life. "As a woman in my 40s, I’m embarrassed to admit that while growing up, my understanding of the female experience, especially for the women who hold blue collar and entry level positions like myself, having to dodge and deflect abusive behaviors inflicted by the people who hold positions of power has been the expected norm."
Nelson, who was one of the whistleblowers in the original Times story exposing Friedman's behavior, emphasized the significance of the shift taking place in the hospitality industry and beyond.
"In my experience, when either myself, or the women around me have mustered the courage required to speak up about situations that we have found to be unsettling or harmful to us, we have either been retaliated against, or we have been dismissed and ignored," she said. "Pairing this reality alongside the knowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits and that women’s lives are being taken through horrific acts of violence on a daily basis, has forced generations of women like me into a protective state of silence."
She continued, "We’ve done this for our own survival. You, society, have required and expected us to behave in this way. Women have been the keepers of your dirty little secrets. Luckily, that silence has now ended as more women are gaining the strength to address the issues that have plagued our experiences. This time, there is no going back for us."
Per the settlement, which Friedman signed on December 18, the Spotted Pig is adopting new policies and training to prevent sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against employees. Bloomfield, who officially left the Spotted Pig in 2018, still owns somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the business, and according to the Times, she is not liable for payments.
Mario Batali, who was alleged to have sexually assaulted women at the Spotted Pig, will be the source of a separate investigation. "As a result of our investigation, we have received credible information about his alleged actions, and separately, we are looking into him, his business partner, his management company, and his three restaurants,” said James. This year, Batali gave up all his restaurants and dissolved his partnership with Joe Bastianich after being accused by several women of sexual misconduct, and he faces criminal charges in Boston for forcibly groping and kissing a woman at a restaurant. The chef, who could not be reached for comment, has denied many of the allegations.
"Today is the day that we get justice, and we take our dignity back," said Jamie Seet, a former general manager at the Spotted Pig who has repeatedly spoken out on Friedman's abuse. "None of us could have done this alone."