Celebrity Chef Says He Will Vigorously Defend Himself Against 2 Lawsuits

A celebrity chef who owns a San Francisco restaurant says he’s disappointed and upset that two lawsuits have been filed against him and “intends to vigorously defend himself.”

The lawsuits were filed against chef Michael Chiarello and his company, Gruppo Chiarello LLC, in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday by two former servers at Coqueta, his Spanish-themed restaurant at Pier 5 on the Embarcadero.

One of the lawsuits by Katherine Page and Asja Sever alleges that Chiarello and three managers created a hostile atmosphere of sexual harassment at the restaurant.

The second, which seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of all current and former Coqueta employees in the past four years, alleges that Chiarello failed to pay wages for all hours worked, failed to pay overtime and did not provide rest and meal breaks.

Page worked at the restaurant for nearly three years until March 13 and Sever for nearly two years until March 12, according to the lawsuit. Matt Vandall, one of their attorneys, said both left voluntarily because they “were no longer able to continue working there based on the environment.”

A statement issued by Chiarello spokesman Mike Sitrick Tuesday evening said Chiarello “is very upset by the allegations.”

“The allegations are not only upsetting to him, they are against his core beliefs… Mr. Chiarello intends to vigorously defend himself, his reputation and his team against these unfounded claims in a court of law,” the statement said.

Chiarello has hosted cooking shows on PBS, the Food Network and the Cooking Channel and appeared on competitions such as Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. He also owns Bottega Ristorante and Chiarello Family Vineyards in Yountville.

The first lawsuit alleges that Chiarello and three managers engaged in sexual harassment of the two servers and forced them to “endure a hostile, sexually charged work environment” that included inappropriate sexual comments, physical touching and derogatory remarks.

The three other defendants in that lawsuit, in addition to Chiarello, are executive chef Dominick Maietta, general manager Mirko Galliani, and assistant general manager Marc Peyer.

Both lawsuits seek financial compensation and court injunctions requiring Chiarello and his company to stop the alleged practices.

Vandall said the defendants have 30 days to respond to the lawsuits. No hearings have been scheduled in the two cases thus far.

The attorney said, “The restaurant industry is rife with these sorts of problems. We’re proud of these two plaintiffs having the courage to come forward and bring these claims.”

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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