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Lawyer Says “Dozens” More Corroborate Allegations of Sexual Harassment in Mike Isabella’s Restaurants

Attorney Debra Katz says to expect new allegations to surface
Lawyer Says “Dozens” More Corroborate Allegations of Sexual Harassment in Mike Isabella’s Restaurants
Mike Isabella (center) and chef/partner George Pagonis (right) have been accused of sexual harassment. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

The lawyer representing former Isabella Eatery Director of Operations Chloe Caras, the woman behind the sexual harassment lawsuit against Mike Isabella and his business partners, says she’s heard from “dozens of individuals” in the past week corroborating allegations and telling their own stories of abuse within the restaurant group.

Last week, Mike Isabella Concepts’ attorney sent out a statement saying accusations of creating a hostile work environment or unwanted physical contact were false and came from a “single disgruntled co-owner of the company” supported only by former employees who were her friends.

Debra Katz, who represents Caras and is a prominent lawyer for victims of sexual abuse, says the public should expect new allegations to surface. She declined to share specifics at this time. Isabella’s team declined to comment on Katz’s latest statement.

In the lawsuit, Caras depicts Isabella and his partners as sex-obsessed “bros” who allegedly bragged about exploits with prostitutes, called female employees “whores” and “bitches,” and made other degrading, vulgar comments about women. Isabella’s team says Caras engaged in the same “banter, language, and horseplay” that she now claims created a hostile work environment.

Caras also says she was fired after she got in an argument with Isabella about one sexual comment. Isabella says  Caras “stormed off the job” and refused to return to work.

With more and more stories like these coming out across the restaurant industry, Katz spoke generally about the power dynamics that foster abuse.

“It is a culture where people are dependent on tips to make a living,” Katz says. “And they are frequently not only in a position of having to be pinched and ogled by customers, but if they want to get good shifts and good assignments, they often have to submit to sexual harassment of the general managers and others who they are beholden on to get assigned to the right tables, the right shifts, et cetera. So even in those places like that, where it seems like minimal power, it’s huge power in terms of the person’s ability to make a living.”

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.