Mike Isabella Used Nondisclosure Agreements to Hush Employees, Report Says
Chef Mike Isabella is in another world of legal troubles amid new claims that his restaurant empire, Mike Isabella Concepts (MIC), used nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) to prohibit employees from speaking out about sexual harassment, according to The Washington Post.
The D.C.-area restaurateur was recently accused of misconduct by former employee Chloe Caras, who alleges that the Top Chef alum and his partners — Taha Ismail, Yohan Allender, George Pagonis, and Nicholis Pagonis — called her names, spoke of her inappropriately, and touched her without consent. The ex-manager filed a lawsuit with D.C. Superior Court, but her lawyers have since withdrawn it in order to file another in federal court.
After the first suit was initially reported, The Post interviewed more than 25 people about kitchen culture in Isabella’s restaurants. Many current and former employees spoke to the publication on condition of anonymity because they said they had signed NDAs that prohibited them from sharing information regarding “details of the personal and business lives of Mike Isabella, his family members, friends, business associates and dealings, including any television programs concerning Mike Isabella and his restaurants.” Each breach of the contract would reportedly result in a $500,000 penalty.
Caras’ new suit asks the court to void MIC employees’ nondisclosure agreements, which could enable more people to discuss the work environment in Isabella’s restaurants.
“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,” Isabella told The Post. “My team has worked incredibly hard building this successful restaurant group, and I will continue to focus on my employees, food and hospitality at this time.”
MIC’s attorney, Bascietto & Bregman, also previously told The Daily Meal that all allegations of an “unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere at MIC are false,” and that “harassment, discrimination, bullying, and abuse or unequal treatment of any kid whatsoever are not tolerated,” at MIC. Nonetheless, the Washington Nationals have chosen to terminate their partnership with the chef and remove his eateries from their park.
MIC still operates 11 restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., including Arroz, G by Mike Isabella, Graffiato, Isabella Eatery, Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, Kapnos Kouzina, Pepita, Requin, Requin Brasserie, and Yona. For more legal business in the food world, find out why these other restaurants were sued.