A former server of esteemed French dining restaurant Le Bernardin is suing the restaurant for discrimination and unpaid wages — alleging that management ignores sexual harassment and that an owner once shamed her for post-pregnancy weight gain, according to a suit.
Former server Kristen Avery, who worked at the seafood restaurant from September 2012 to July 2015, filed the lawsuit against the restaurant and its chef-owner Eric Ripert and owner Maguy Le Coze. Prolific restaurant world lawyer Maimon Kirschenbaum filed the suit and aims to make it a class action.
Ripert said in response that the allegations are “completely false.” “I’m looking forward to defend our positions in court,” he said via phone. “That’s the only thing I can say at this point.”
Avery alleges that management at the restaurant ignored her repeated complaints about sexual harassment in the restaurant, the complaint says. Captains, the head waiters at the restaurant, would frequently harass people and on two occasions touched Avery’s butt inappropriately, she alleges in the suit. In another incident, kitchen staff allegedly “taunted” Avery about a sexual assault she had experienced, calling her “whore” and claiming she’d made up the incident, the suit says.
The manager David Mancini allegedly did nothing about Avery’s complaints and eventually asked kitchen staff to stop speaking to her at all “because she is a dangerous person and a lawsuit waiting to happen,” the suit claims.
Matters allegedly got worse after Avery became pregnant in 2014. The former server claims that the restaurant refused to accommodate her requests, such as taking breaks to sit or to eat a snack, according to the suit. The restaurant also forced her to pay for her own maternity-sized uniform, the suit claims.
Once Avery returned from giving birth, a run-in with Le Coze — the longtime owner of the restaurant — left her in tears, the former server alleges. Le Coze allegedly touched Avery’s stomach and said “Are you planning on losing weight?” and then emphasized “It is very important,” the suit says. Avery also alleges that the restaurant management declined her request for lunch shifts, even though “lunch shifts were not particularly desirable shifts for waiters,” the suit says.
“Realizing that Le Bernardin would not accommodate her reasonable requests, and that she was generally a person non-grata at the restaurant, Plaintiff [Avery] had no choice but to leave her employment in July of 2015,” the suit says.
Avery’s suit also includes some more standard wage lawsuit allegations, including that Le Bernardin shared tips with management. She is suing for unspecified damages, as well as back pay.
Le Bernardin is considered one of the world’s finest dining institutions. It’s one of the few NYC restaurants with three Michelin stars and has ranked among the top 20 best restaurants in the world.
After Mario Batali was accused of sexual misconduct in December, Ripert issued a statement saying that no “abusive” or “hurtful” behavior has ever been tolerated at his restaurant. “All of our safety, wellbeing, and success in the workplace and society depends on compassion and accountability,” the statement says.