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  • Celebrity Chefs And Sexual Harassment: Recipe For A Lawsuit

    Over the last decade we have seen an explosion of celebrity chefs on TV. Generally attributed to the rise of the Food Network, Emeril Lagasse, Rachel Ray, and Guy Fieris are now household names. And there are many, many others.

    The blending of big personalities and tantalizing food demystified by public preparation has proven to have mass and lasting appeal.  There are dozens of shows airing. If you have cable, you can literally watch around the clock.

    But celebrity status has not insulated these chefs and their kitchens from a common workplace issue: sexual harassment.

    Sexual harassment is generally defined as harassment based on the person’s sex and can include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or physical harassment of a sexual nature.  It can be, but does not have to be sexual in nature, however, and comments that are offensive about a person’s sex and disparate treatment based on a person’s sex can violate the law. A sexual harassment lawyer in California can help you to understand what conduct is prohibited.

    In recent years, there have been a number of celebrity chefs slapped with lawsuits resulting from conduct and conditions in their kitchens. Paula Deen is the latest celeb to deal with harassment claims. In a suit filed in March of this year, a manager in one of Deen’s restaurants claims that she was the target of unwanted sexual advances by Dean’s brother. The complaint alleges that he would watch pornography in the office that they shared and had distributed pictures of two women having sex at an office meeting. There were further allegations of racial harassment that Dean chose to handle by inviting the male target to her mansion rather than address her brother’s offensive conduct.

    In February of this year, Las Vegas restaurateur, Rick Moonen, was named defendant in a suit by two former bartenders. The women claim that the general manager of the restaurant touched them inappropriately, made comments about their bodies and described the various sex acts that he would like to perform on them in graphic detail. When the women complained, they were fired.

    So too was Hell’s Kitchen famed chef Gordon Ramsay; in a suit filed by female chef Janet Kim, allegations of inappropriate touching and offensive name calling were attributed to the male-centric atmosphere created by Ramsay’s famous fiery television persona.

    In all of these cases, the chef’s were not the harassers. They may be held accountable for the conduct of their employees, however, under the following conditions: 1) the employer knew or should have known about the harassment, and 2) they made no reasonable efforts to end the harassment.

    Restaurants need to have anti-sexual harassment policies in place or the boss risks having knowledge of the potential for sexual harassment perpetrated by his or her employees. And if the boss was complicit, liability is much easier to prove.

    Ultimately, in the context of workplace sexual harassment, celebrities are just like non-celebrity bosses, but they run the risk of having their bad behavior aired along with the good.

    If you or someone you know is suffering from inappropriate conduct in the workplace, consulting a sexual harassment lawyer in California can help.