Published on:

Nondisclosure Agreements in Sex Harassment Cases — Top Chef Contestant Sued for Harassment

Companies initially started using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to protect their trade secrets and sensitive information about the business that could be used against them if it got into the wrong hands, but some companies have attempted to stretch the limits of what NDAs can do for them. Some companies have made non-disclosure agreements in their employment contracts so broad as to prohibit their workers from talking about almost anything having to do with their work.

But a court can invalidate an NDA if the judge determines that the agreement is too broad, which they will usually do if they find sufficient evidence that the agreement extends beyond protecting the company’s legitimate business interests and/or inhibits the rights of the employees.

Some states, including California, Pennsylvania, and New York have proposed legislation to limit an NDA’s ability to prevent workers from speaking out about harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Currently, Chloe Caras, a former restaurant manager for Mike Isabella, is accusing the former “Top Chef” contestant of sexual misconduct, and of promoting and maintaining a work environment in which sexual harassment was not only allowed but actively encouraged. She filed a federal lawsuit asking for the NDA she signed to be invalidated so she could speak out about her unpleasant experiences working for Isabella.

Isabella and his team maintain that their NDAs were designed only with the intention of preventing any leaks of any information about a new restaurant’s opening ahead of when they were ready to announce it. Far from trying to intimidate employees into silence, the restaurant claims workers were encouraged to report any incidents of misconduct.

But that’s not what the employees say – at least not the few who were willing to talk to the press at all, and even then they did so only under the condition of anonymity for fear of being sued by the restaurant.

Women who did talk to the press alleged that, in addition to facing sexual harassment on a regular basis, they were allegedly retaliated against when they did complain to management. One former server said a chef told her he was going to make her life hell after she filed a complaint about the way he treated her. Afterward, she alleges he followed through on his threat by making it difficult for her to do her job at the restaurant.

Another woman complained to her manager about another chef who was continuously making lewd gestures and comments to her. Her manager allegedly told her he would talk to the chef, but she doesn’t think he did because the chef allegedly kept up his rude behavior.

In addition to denying all the allegations, Isabella’s publicist has been circulating a letter claiming that the chef and his team have created a culture in their restaurants that is productive, friendly, and based on equality and open communication. The letter was signed by 10 female employees of the restaurant, including Ket Raxajack, the human resource manager at MIC.

Johnny C. Taylor, the CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management, pointed out that to have the HR manager put her name to such a letter could make it more difficult for workers who feel uncomfortable or unsafe to bring their complaints to HR because they might feel the manager is already against them.

Isabella’s team, on the other hand, readily denied that an employee would feel uncomfortable about bringing concerns of sexual harassment to an HR manager who had signed a letter supporting their boss against allegations of sexual misconduct.

The restaurant has tried to turn the tables on Chloe Caras by accusing her of participating in the same behavior of which she’s complaining in her lawsuit. Her attorney demanded that the statement should be retracted. If it is not, she has said that she will file a further action against the restaurant on behalf of her client for defamation. In fact, the plaintiff’s attorney alleges that the restaurant pressured employees into signing statements accusing Caras of sexual misconduct.

The restaurant also denies those allegations.The Chicago overtime and employment lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center represent plaintiffs in employment overtime and discrimination claims. They are investigating unpaid overtime claims against large retail chains such as Petsmart, Officemax, Staples, Smart & Final, Apple, Walgreen’s, CVS, Urban Outfitters, GAP, Gem Financial, Abercrombie & Fitch, Limited, Forever 21, Macy’s, Target, JC Penney’s, Lowes, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshalls, TJ Max, Victoria’s Secret, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Best Buy, Home Depot, Apple, Best Buy, Sears, K Mart, J.C Penney, Walmart, Costco, PetSmart, REI and other retail chains for misclassifying employees as managers, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, failing to pay for time spent on security checks, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim this practice you can call us at one of our offices near Elgin and Aurora at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.