'Lidia's Italy' Star May Be Liable to Italian Worker
MANHATTAN (CN) - Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich must face claims that she took advantage of an Italian looking to break into the restaurant business, a New York appeals court ruled
Maria Carmela Farina alleged in a 2011 complaint that she had been living in Venice in 2005 when she received an exciting offer to come to New York.
An associate of Bastianich, the 67-year-old star of "Lidia's Italy," allegedly promised that Farina would earn at least $600 a week managing the kitchen in one of Bastianich's four New York restaurants or on one of her televised cooking shows.
Mario Batali's restaurant Del Posto is just one of numerous properties in which Bastianich has a hand.
Farina said that once she arrived in New York, however, she instead spent the next six years cleaning and otherwise caring for an elderly widow.
Farina said Luigia Crespi had been the widow of Bastianich's longtime handyman Oscar Crespi. Before he died, the handyman had deeded his Queens home to Bastianich for $10 in return for the chef's promise that she would house and take care of his widow for the rest of her life.
There is no dispute that Farina never received monetary compensation for the services she provided, but she did apparently receive free room and board, as well as health insurance.
Bastianich allegedly told Farina that her earnings were being used to cover the hefty costs of getting her a U.S. green card. When the widow Crespi died in 2011, however, Bastianich allegedly said she no longer had need of Farina's services and gave her a one-way plane ticket back to Italy.
In dismissing Farina's complaint, New York County Supreme Court Justice Paul Feinman found the claim that she had a reasonable expectation of payment "inherently incredible" given that she worked without compensation for six years.
A four-judge panel with the Appellate Division's First Department revived two claims against Bastianich on Thursday.
"The fact that plaintiff may have been compensated, in part, by room and board and health insurance, is not dispositive on the question of whether she received adequate compensation for her services, and does not bar the claim at the pleading stage," the ruling sates.
Bastianich also failed to show that she did not unjustly benefit from the services Farina provided.
"A person may be unjustly enriched not only where she receives money or property, but also where she otherwise receives a benefit," the unsigned opinion states. "Such a benefit may be conferred where the person's debt is satisfied or where she is otherwise saved expense or loss."
Here, Bastianich had allegedly promised her longtime handyman that his widow would be cared for in exchange for the deed to his house for pittance.
"Bastianich was also benefitting from the fact that plaintiff was cleaning and maintaining a house she admittedly owns," the judges wrote.
The ruling affirms dismissal of Farina's claims against Bastianich's daughter, Tanya Manuali, and against Lidia's Enterprise Holdings LLC, the corporate entity that oversees the chef's restaurants.
Farina failed to show how those defendants unjustly benefited from the services that Farina provided to Crespi's widow, the court ruled.
Justices John Sweeny Jr., Richard Andrias, Leland DeGrasse and Sallie Manzanet-Daniels joined in the unanimous decision.