Celebrity Chef Hauled to Federal Court on Harassment Claims

WASHINGTON (CN) – A month after hitting “Top Chef” star Mike Isabella with explosive sexual harassment claims, the former top-ranked woman of Isabella’s $30 million restaurant empire has taken her claims to federal court.

Represented by the Katz, Marshall and Banks law firm, Chloe Caras claims in her April 3 refiling that Isabella embodies the toxic “bro culture” that many in the culinary industry are now challenging. Caras first brought the suit on March 19 in D.C. Superior Court.

Touting herself as one of the few women to rise through the ranks at Mike Isabella Concepts, Caras says her three-year tenure was marked by routine sexual harassment.

“On multiple occasions, Mr. Isabella sexually propositioned Ms. Caras and subjected her to degrading acts, including pulling her hair while standing behind her in a clear pantomime of having penetrative sex from the rear.

Caras says Isabella was also prone to parading around his “girlfriends” at restaurant openings and work events, and tried to have cocktails at his restaurants named after some of his supposed sexual conquests, specifically “The Crossing Guard,” a cocktail at G by Mike Isabella, and “You Strong” at Kapnos Taverna.

Caras, who served as director of operations for the Isabella Eatery, says she refused a demand to name the signature cocktail at Pepita in Arlington, Virginia, “itchy kitty,” which is allegedly a term Isabella used when referring to a woman’s vagina.

Rather than reforming the culture of harassment at his restaurants, according to the complaint, Isabella sought to protect it by requiring “employees — the majority of whom are low-wage earners — to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (‘NDA’) as a condition of employment.”

“The NDA subjects employees, including wait staff earning $3.33 an hour plus tips in the District of Columbia, to a penalty of $500,000 plus attorneys’ fees for each breach of ‘confidential information’ for the employee’s lifetime,” the complaint states. “The NDA defines “confidential information” to be any “details of the personal and business lives of Mike Isabella, his family members, friends, business associates and dealings.”

Caras says her suit against Isabella led the chef’s company to threaten enforcement of the NDA against any employees who spoke to the misconduct of Isabella or his partners.

The Washington, D.C., woman filed her first suit just three months after her career at Mike Isabella Concepts came to a crashing halt. As described in the complaint, Isabella was visibly intoxicated at Isabella Eatery on Dec. 5, 2017, when he urged one of the chefs there to have sex with Caras.

When Caras objected and attempted to leave the restaurant, according to the complaint, “Isabella chased after her, screaming that she was a ‘disrespectful bitch’ and acting in a manner that she found frightening and physically menacing.”

Though Isabella told Caras not to come back, she says his company then opposed her claim for unemployment compensation benefits.”

Caras says Isabella pressured employees to back up his claim to the Virginia Employment Commission that Caras abandoned her post, and “pressured one employee to sign a statement that Ms. Caras had sexually harassed him on the day of her termination, an assertion that was absurd and knowingly false.”

“Mr. Isabella has allowed Partners and other male employees, including chefs, to assault female employees, without consequence, and has himself roughly grabbed and touched female chefs and other female employees in an aggressive, sexually degrading and unwelcome manner,” the complaint states. “Employees male and female alike have acknowledged that MIC is the worst environment for women in which they have ever worked.”

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