The Sexual Harassment Settlement That Could Change the Restaurant Industry

The restaurant industry has long been a notorious boys’ club, full of misogyny and sexual harassment. With men maintaining most of the power in the industry, women didn’t feel like they had a choice other than to put up with the constant groping and harassment from both male staff and patrons, but a new settlement in a New York sexual harassment case might change all that – or at least move the needle in the right direction.

At the end of 2017, the New York Times reported on multiple allegations made by 11 women working at the Spotted Pig in Manhattan that the owner of the restaurant, Ken Friedman, had repeatedly groped and sexually harassed them. The plaintiffs also allege that Friedman fostered a sexist environment in which they constantly felt unsafe and unwelcome and that he retaliated against them when they tried to speak out against the mistreatment.

The New York State attorney general’s office investigated the matter and recently ordered Friedman to pay the 11 plaintiffs a combination of $240,000, to be split among them and paid out over the next two years, as well as 20% of all his profits from the restaurant over the next ten years, including any money he makes off the sale of the restaurant (of which he currently owns 75-80%) if he decides to sell it. The women are unlikely to see any money from his profits since the restaurant has been in the red for a while, but the almost quarter-million-dollar settlement is nothing to sneeze at.

The women were in high spirits at a press conference where they announced the settlement and its terms, saying that change is not only possible, but it’s happening.

One major accomplishment that this sexual harassment settlement brings is that the award ordered to be paid to the plaintiffs is to be paid from the personal wealth of the man who harassed, intimidated, and threatened them. By contrast, the proposed settlement in the Harvey Weinstein case is to be paid out to his plaintiffs from various insurers.

Friedman also issued a formal apology to the plaintiffs, although he continued to insist that he “disagreed” with some of the allegations against him.

April Bloomfield is a chef and co-owner of the Spotted Pig, though there’s a dispute concerning exactly what percentage she owns, and she is currently in the process of divesting her share of the restaurant. Although Bloomfield is not included in the sexual harassment settlement, the agreement states that she shares some responsibility as someone who held a managerial role at the company and did nothing to address or prevent the harassment that took place.

In an interview with The Times back in 2018, Bloomfield admitted she hadn’t done enough to protect employees at the restaurant, but she said that Friedman was also terrorizing and manipulating her.

For women who have come to accept sexual harassment and assault as just another part of life, especially in the restaurant industry, this significant sexual harassment settlement provides some hope.

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