Celebrity Chef Mike Isabella Taken Off RAMMYs Noms Amid Sex Harassment Claims

A lawsuit says Isabella and his partners created a "sexually hostile work environment and condoned a climate of contempt for women" at his restaurants

Celebrity chef Mike Isabella will no longer be considered for Washington, D.C.'s most prestigious restaurant and food awards after a former employee filed a lawsuit claiming Isabella sexually harassed her and created a "sexually hostile" work environment.

The RAMMYs judges panel rescinded Isabella's two nominations for its 2018 awards on Thursday.

"The panel officially rescinds the finalist nominations for Arroz by Mike Isabella as New Restaurant of the Year and for G by Mike Isabella as a Favorite Fast Bites finalist. The judges will not add additional finalists to those two categories," the judges panel said in a statement.

Michael Rafidi, former executive chef of Isabella's Arroz and Requin restuarants, will keep his Rising Star of the Year nomination, the judges said.

"The judges decided that this category, based on individual talent and performance, is focused on the individual and can be evaluated separately from the restaurant(s) and or company of employment. Rafidi was not named in the lawsuit which brought these allegations to light," the statement said.

Chloe Caras, a former manager for Isabella, is seeking an unspecified amount for pain and suffering, back pay and punitive damages. Isabella, who competed on the cooking reality shows "Top Chef" and "Top Chef: All-Stars," has about a dozen restaurants in the Washington area.

The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in the District of Columbia says when Caras was fired in 2017 she was the director of operations for the Isabella Eatery in Virginia and the highest-ranking woman in Isabella's organization, Mike Isabella Concepts. The lawsuit says that during Caras' three years with the company she was subject to unwelcome touching, sexual advances, vulgar and explicitly sexual remarks and gestures, and sexists insults and texts calling her a "dumb bitch" and a "whore" and false rumors about her sexual history.

"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," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by The Washington Post, says Isabella and his partners created a "sexually hostile work environment and condoned a climate of contempt for women" at his restaurants. It says that on Dec. 5, 2017, when Isabella suggested to a chef that he have sex with Caras she attempted to leave the restaurant and was chased after by a screaming Isabella and fired by him when she reached the door.

Isabella, his partners and his company denied the allegations.

"The allegations of an unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere are false," said a statement released by the law firm Bascietto & Bregman. It said Caras raised these allegations for the first time after she "stormed off the job and refused to return, insisting she had been fired."

The statement said the accusations of physical contact "are completely untrue."

Caras' attorney Debra Katz said in an email that Caras has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting that it conduct an investigation into allegations that Isabella's organization maintained a sexually hostile work environment.

The RAMMYs are presented by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW).

The 36th Annual RAMMY Awards Gala is on Sunday, June 10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Check here for the nominees.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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