Daniel Boulud’s Discrimination Settlement and a Dark Side of Top Restaurants

Daniel Boulud and Padma Lakshmi

It could have been embarrassing for Top Chef that this week’s guest judge Danield Boulud had been involved in settling a discrimination suit filed by his former employees just 2 short weeks ago. His restaurant Daniel agreed to pay $80,000 in damages to 8 workers who alleged discrimination. He will also be required to train managers in employment law and ensure that race and national origin are not factors in promotions. However, with the show’s producers ignoring the issue it seems it is safe for much of the press covering Top Chef to ignore it as well. Admittedly, it would be difficult to bring into the open an issue far too common in the world of top-level restaurants that makes diners themselves a bit squeamish and uncomfortable in thinking about what they may be supporting by patronizing a top restaurant with an abusive environment.

Outside of the daily workings of his restaurants Daniel Boulud is apparently well known for his commitment to charity. However, inside the restaurants some former employees see a distinct lack of charitability and respect. Restaurant workers and their advocates marched multiple times outside of Boulud’s restaurants carrying a giant, inflatable cockroach and singing “We Shall Overcome.” It seems that the most irksome issue is that Boulud has been accused of promoting French-speaking employees over non-white employees. The plaintiffs in the case were Asian and Latin American restaurant workers.

Initially, Daniel Boulud had indicated that he and his restaurants would fight the issue in courts instead of settling and giving the appearance that they were guilty. In the end, a settlement was accepted with a statement from the restaurant Daniel saying they were “very pleased to have this matter resolved and to avoid the time and expense associated with mounting a defense.” It seems that is very close to an admission of guilt.

The upside of the settlement is that perhaps some things will begin to change for workers on the low end of the fine dining hierarchy. Perhaps it may lead to some discussions of what abuse of restaurant employees is and means. On the negative side, the issue also encourages support for the status quo from those who care more about their food than those who create and serve their food.

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