Bryce Mottram, a former general manager at one of quirky ice cream purveyor Ample Hills’ scoop shops, has filed a lawsuit in New York Eastern District Court alleging that he was fired from the company in retaliation for speaking up about instances of sexual harassment and unsafe COVID-19 workplace protocols at the company. It’s the latest blow for the brand as Ample Hills continues to struggle to regain its footing following bankruptcy, a change in ownership to manufacturing company Schmitt Industries, and its founding duo splitting from the company last July.
In the lawsuit — which names both Schmitt Industries and CEO Michael Zapata as defendants — Mottram alleges that he was sexually harassed by the company’s senior director of retail operations, Jacopo Butti, while working as the general manager of Ample Hills’ Astoria location in 2020. Mottram was first hired at Ample Hills as the general manager of the Times Square location in August 2019.
“From the start, when I met him, it was just a lot of winks, and a lot of jokes back and forth,” Mottram tells Eater New York. The lawsuit alleges that in October 2020, Butti rubbed Mottram’s stomach for 10 to 15 seconds, while speaking with him, in a way that made Mottram “very uncomfortable.” In a subsequent interview with Eater New York, Mottram said that the alleged harassment took place while Butti was visiting the Astoria location to prep for some Halloween weekend menu specials. Mottram was offered some ice cream, and he declined, he says, while explaining that he didn’t eat much ice cream. Butti then allegedly said “Sure, you don’t,” and rubbed Mottram’s stomach and winked at him two or three times. “It made me really uncomfortable,” Mottram says.
A representative for Ample Hills didn’t comment on the specific allegations laid out in the lawsuit, but said in an emailed statement: “We respect and value all of our employees and remain steadfast in our commitment to the safety of our workplace. We are disappointed Mr. Mottram has chosen this route. Ample Hills adheres to the highest standards of professional conduct and looks forward to refuting Mr. Mottram’s claims in the appropriate forum.”
Proper COVID-19 safety protocols were also not observed at Ample Hills in multiple instances, the lawsuit alleges. An employee at the Astoria location tested positive for COVID-19 on October 26, and had been working in the store the previous day, according to the lawsuit. Zapata allegedly “insisted” that the store re-open on October 29 after a short temporary closure, even though some store employees had been in contact with the sick employee on October 25 and wouldn’t be able to quarantine for up to 14 days before returning to work. Zapata allegedly threatened that any employee who did not show up for work would be marked as “no call, no show” and “there might be consequences,” according to the lawsuit.
After Mottram protested directly to Zapata that the reopening was unsafe, the store was allowed to remain closed until November 8, according to the lawsuit. Weeks later, on November 25, another store employee tested positive for COVID-19. Zapata again pushed to re-open the store before employees could properly quarantine, and Mottram protested again, according to the lawsuit. The store ultimately was allowed to remain closed until December 5.
Zapata also allegedly would visit Ample Hills stores in New York after traveling in from California without abiding by the state’s mandatory quarantine period. Mottram also witnessed Zapata showing up at the Astoria store “without following proper COVID-19 protocols with respect to masks and protective gear,” according to the lawsuit.
In mid-December, the lawsuit alleges that director of retail operations Butti visited the Astoria store again and touched another male employee in an inappropriate manner on the shoulder while in conversation. The employee later told Mottram what had happened and said that Butti “made him feel uncomfortable,” the lawsuit alleges.
On December 22, the lawsuit states that Mottram emailed the company’s human resources department and CEO Michael Zapata to raise concerns about Butti’s alleged inappropriate behavior toward Mottram and the other employee, and the company’s alleged mishandling of COVID-19 safety measures. Mottram also spoke directly with Zapata on the phone that day about his concerns, according to the lawsuit.
Soon after, on December 28, Zapata called Mottram and told him that Ample Hills was terminating his employment because Mottram “was not a good ‘cultural fit,’” according to the lawsuit. The news was a shock to Mottram, he tells Eater New York, as management had previously seemed to be happy with his work. Two weeks prior, on December 14, Butti had allegedly sent a text message to Mottram saying that he was pushing for a raise for him. “Trust me we appreciate all your hard work and want to make this happen because it is deserved,” Butti’s message read, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that Mottram was fired in retaliation for complaining about Butti’s behavior and the company’s improper handling of COVID-19 protocols. Mottram is seeking an unspecified monetary sum covering damages including for “lost wages and emotional distress” through the lawsuit.
Mottram’s lawyer, Maimon Kirschenbaum, a well-known restaurant industry attorney, said that Ample Hills “will pay the price” for its alleged treatment of Mottram. “At the core, it’s just upsetting that somebody should have to choose between their own safety and the public’s safety, and their job,” Kirschenbaum says. “They should be rewarding an employee that tries to keep a safer environment.”
Schmitt Industries’ lawyers did not immediately return a request for comment for this story.
Mottram is currently searching for another job in the city, he says, while collecting the last few days of his unemployment benefits.
“I did really like the job,” Mottram says. “I did really enjoy it. Just as a professional, I had to bring up [the complaints] and do the right thing. But the end result wasn’t good for me.”
The full complaint is included below: