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TOP CHEF DUELS -- "Knock Out 9" Pictured: Mike Isabella -- (Photo by: Nicole Wilder/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Former employee sues celebrity chef Mike Isabella, claiming sexual harassment

WASHINGTON — A woman who was formerly employed as a manager by celebrity chef Mike Isabella sued him and his business partners Monday alleging sexual harassment. Isabella denied the allegations.

Chloe Caras is seeking an unspecified amount for pain and suffering, back pay and punitive damages. Isabella, who competed on the cooking reality shows “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All-Stars,” has about a dozen restaurants in the Washington area.

The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in the District of Columbia says when Caras was fired in 2017 she was the director of operations for the Isabella Eatery in Virginia and the highest-ranking woman in Isabella’s organization, Mike Isabella Concepts. The lawsuit says that during Caras’ three years with the company she was subject to unwelcome touching, sexual advances, vulgar and explicitly sexual remarks and gestures, and sexists insults and texts calling her a “dumb bitch” and a “whore” and false rumors about her sexual history.

“On multiple occasions, Mr. Isabella sexually propositioned Ms. Caras and subjected her to degrading acts, including pulling her hair while standing behind her in a clear pantomime of having penetrative sex from the rear,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Isabella and his partners created a “sexually hostile work environment and condoned a climate of contempt for women” at his restaurants. It says that on Dec. 5, 2017, when Isabella suggested to a chef that he have sex with Caras she attempted to leave the restaurant and was chased after by a screaming Isabella and fired by him when she reached the door.

In a statement provided to The Washington Post, which was first to report the lawsuit, Isabella, his partners and company denied the allegations. “Simply put, the allegations of an unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere are false,” the statement said. The Maryland-based law firm that provided the statement, Bascietto & Bregman, did not immediately provide the same statement or other information to The Associated Press.

Caras’ attorney Debra Katz said in an email that Caras has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting that it conduct an investigation into allegations that Isabella’s organization maintained a sexually hostile work environment.

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