Mike Isabella, the Washington chef who parlayed competing on Season 6 of Bravo's Top Chef into his own dining empire of 11 restaurants, has been sued for sexual harassment by a former manager.
In a lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court, Chloe Caras names him and four of his business partners at Mike Isabella Concepts, alleging that they groped her, commented on the size of her rear end and labeled her with female slurs.
"Women generally do not make it into the higher management ranks of Mr. Isabella’s establishments," Caras says in the suit. And once she did, she says she became the "target of extraordinary sex-based hostility and abuse."
She told The Washington Post that she was fired from his Northern Virginia restaurant, Isabella Eatery, on Dec. 5, before its grand opening.
She had been sitting in a booth with Isabella, whom she said "appeared visibly intoxicated" after consuming multiple drinks throughout the day. When a male sous chef asked if he could join them, their boss said, "If you sleep with Chloe, you can."
At that point, Caras says she told him to stop and he got mad. "I tried to walk away and he followed me into the kitchen, calling me a 'bitch.' "
He then yelled, "Love you, Chloe, nice working with you!" before firing her.
The Post spoke to two male employees from the Isabella Eatery who say they saw him yelling at Caras on the night in question. Both left after the Dec. 5 argument and requested their names not be used for fear of reprisal by Isabella, who wields significant influence in the Washington restaurant scene.
Another former employee, Sara Hancock, compared the atmosphere at Isabella Eatery to a "frat house," where the word "whore" was frequently tossed around in the kitchen. "I hated it," she told The Post.
The Maryland law firm representing Mike Isabella Concepts, Bascietto & Bregman, countered that after working for him for years without "raising these allegations," Cara had "stormed off the job and refused to return, insisting she had been fired.”
They also maintained that women hold 60% of the company's management and leadership jobs at Isabella's company.
Isabella's lawyers did not immediately respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.
The allegations against Isabella may not surprise fans of his 2009 season of Top Chef, during which producers and editors ate up his chauvinist statements. In the very first episode, he was annoyed to see a female competitor keeping up with him as they shucked clams. "No offense, but a girl shouldn't be at the same level I am," he said later in an interview.