James Beard award-nominated chef and winemaker Michael Chiarello (Coqueta in San Francisco and Bottega Ristorante in Yountville) has been accused of both sexual harassment and withholding wages in two separate lawsuits from ex-employees.
The two former Coqueta servers, Katherine Page and Asja Sever, both of San Francisco, accuse the chef of permitting a sexually hostile atmosphere, during which they were allegedly subject to inappropriate comments and touching by Chiarello, management, and executive chef Dominick Maietta. In a second lawsuit, they accuse Chiarello of withholding wages for overtime work, adjusting time sheets, and forcing tip pooling.
“Coqueta management either participated in the sex harassment directly or allowed it to continue unabated by turning a blind eye toward the egregious, unlawful sexual misconduct of the restaurant's more prominent employees," the women claim in the lawsuit, according to San Jose Mercury News.
According to the 20-page complaint, employees were subject to homophobic and racist slurs, inappropriate touching, and suggestive comments. Among other sexually aggressive acts, which are listed in detail in the complaint, the former employees allege that Chiarello told management not to hire female staff unless, to paraphrase, “you want to have sex with them.”
Chef Chiarello’s team has responded to these claims with a statement that does not directly comment on either the fiscal or harassment allegations.
“Mr. Chiarello is very upset by the allegations made by two former employees,” the statement reads. “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.”