NYC Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment

By Leeds Brown Law | December 22, 2017

Employees Accuse Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini of Sexual Harassment at Jean-George in NYC

According to multiple news sources, several women recently accused acclaimed pastry chef and television star Johnny Iuzzini of sexually harassing and abusing them during his time at Jean-Georges. The incidents allegedly occurred between 2009 and 2011. Two of the women were pastry chefs who reported directly to Iuzzini at the world-famous New York City restaurant. The other two were “externs.” Externs are unpaid workers who often put in the same number of hours and level of commitment as paid employees.

Iuzzini, a James Beard Award winner, left Jean-Georges in 2011 and has since made frequent appearances on television shows such as The Great Holiday Baking Show and Top Chef. It is unclear if the management of Jean-George was aware of Iuzzini’s behavior during his time in their kitchen. Some speculate his departure was the direct result of their knowledge. Iuzzini claims, however, that he planned the end of his employment and notified management, in advance of their receipt of any information.

The alleged victims have not (yet) filed lawsuits or any formal complaints against Iuzzini, but their stories act as a reminder of how sexual harassment can plague employees at even the city’s finest restaurants.

The Supreme Court Decided: Sexual Harassment is Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex. It does not specifically prohibit harassment. A Supreme Court decision interpreted Title VII to mean that harassment based on a protected characteristic is a form of discrimination. Thus, sexual harassment is sex discrimination and unlawful.

In a recently published New York Times article explaining some history of sexual harassment laws, the author writes; “In the 1986 case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits harassment in the workplace based on sex, race, color, religion or national origin. Today, Meritor is viewed as a landmark case that officially recognized sexual harassment as an impermissible form of discrimination.”

All inappropriate or unkind acts are not unlawful. For conduct to qualify as a level of harassment that the law prohibits, the court said that it must be serious enough as to be “severe or pervasive.”

The article continued to explain that a single incident, even if it is sexual and inappropriate, may not be sufficient to support a claim for damages. For example, a supervisor rubbing the bottom of an employee on one occasion, would likely not be unlawful under Title VII. However, one incident of a supervisor sexually assaulting an employee may very well be. A single act would have to be severe to fall under the protection of Title VII.

Pervasive conduct is usually repeated and may interfere with your ability to concentrate or attend work. Continuous, long-term use of sexual epithets by your boss or persistent requests for sex despite your refusals may be unlawful sexual harassment. Co-workers, not just supervisors or managers, can commit and perpetrate sexual harassment.

Your employer, supervisor or management has some responsibility for taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. When your employer either knows about the improper conduct it or should know about it, there is a duty to respond.

Employees Feared Retaliation (and Still Do) was the first to shed light on the accusations against Iuzzini. The published account by reporter Rachel Tepper Paley portrays women afraid to give their names for fear of ruining their careers. Of the interview, shared that the women requested to remain anonymous, “one because of Iuzzini’s influence and another out of fear of retribution.”

The allegations the women reported include:

  • Habitually touching female employees on the rear end with phallic kitchen items
  • Breathing on female employees’ necks
  • Following an employee into a walk-in refrigerator and simulating sex with her by putting his hands on her hips in a suggestive way
  • Demanding shoulder massages
  • Making crude jokes
  • Showing a female employee a photo of a woman’s genitals
  • Sticking his tongue in the ear of an employee on several occasions

The women allege that they had no idea that any formal channels existed in which to report the sexual harassment, although a spokesman for the restaurant group claims there has been an HR department in place since 2003. One woman did say that Phillip, the restaurant manager, and owner’s brother, knew of some of Iuzzini’s behavior but not the true extent of it. The women indicated that because of Iuzzini’s fame and connections, to make an issue out of the problems they experienced would mean the end of their chef/kitchen careers. Instead, some of the women quit their jobs because the situation was intolerable. One of the employees claims that, after a cursory discussion about Iuzzini’s behavior, when Phillip asked her if she wanted to file a report, she declined. She saw no good coming from that.

The women have not, as of this writing, filed formal actions against Iuzzini or Jean-George and the restaurant group.

Iuzzini has since issued a lengthy apology for some of his behavior and described some of the reports as inaccurate. He blames his behavior on growing up around the “industry’s male-dominated bro culture.” The restaurant has issued a statement that they have fine-tuned their HR functions and will continue to do so. “whether directed at women or men, yelling, berating, touching, or harassment of any kind is not how we operate our restaurants. Mr. Iuzzini has not been a part of our restaurant group for some time and does not represent our philosophy towards dining and more importantly, to our working environment.”

Contact Us

If you work in one of the thousands of New York City metropolitan area restaurants, you are at risk to experience sexual harassment. You have rights to work in a safe place free from sexual misconduct. Attorneys at Leeds Brown Law have been helping employees in New York City protect their rights when sexual harassment causes harm to them. Have you been forced to quit your job? Have you been fired or demoted because you complained about sexual harassment in your workplace? If so, it may be time to call our office and find out what you can do. You may be able to file a claim against your employer and recover damages for the harm you have experienced.

Someone is available to take your call 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658. Call Leeds Brown, sexual harassment attorneys in New York City, today.



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