Top Chef's Tom Colicchio Allegedly Stole Wages, Condoned Sexist Abuse

In Depth

Another day, another lawsuit filed against a former chef reality show participant. But while we’ve seen abuse-related lawsuits before, this one…wow. This one is pretty freaking intense.

The culprit this time is Tom Colicchio, head judge on every season of Top Chef, five-time James Beard award winner, and owner of mostly NY-based sandwich chain ‘wichcraft. A new lawsuit filed by two of his delivery workers against ‘wichcraft’s East Village location alleges a lot of things against the managers at ‘wichcraft, and by extension Colicchio and his partners. There’s the boilerplate stuff: they supposedly paid workers below minimum wage, docked tips, and denied employees overtime, among other things. There’s also a pointedly dickish move where Colicchio and his people allegedly made employees change in and out of their uniforms off the clock (costing them about half an hour of paid time per shift), as well as making them pay for their own (one assumes professional) uniform cleaning.

None of that would be particular unusual, even as it definitely is particularly awful. Then you get to the rest of the lawsuit, however, and holy crap, this gets so much worse. One of the plaintiffs, Lourdes Rivera, alleges that a male co-worker took a video of her changing in the locker room. Their bosses not only didn’t care, they persuaded her not to bring in the cops, and essentially waited until her head was turned the other way to delete the evidence entirely. Both she and fellow plaintiff Emma Rivera (the only two female delivery drivers at that particular location) were also apparently regularly referred to as “bitch” and “whore” by their manager, because, sure, those sound like entirely appropriate nicknames for your valued employees.

I wish I could say this story surprises me, but it’s only shocking to those who haven’t worked in the industry. And if you have worked in the industry and you’re still surprised, either you’ve led the most charmed career imaginable, or you’re part of the problem.

Update: Via Josh Scherer at, Colicchio says the allegations are “just not true.” I take that with a grain of salt, but in the same piece, Restaurant Opportunities Centers founder Saru Jayaraman — distinctly not a person who would normally take the side of a restaurant owner over a low-level employee — gives the following quote:

“We gave Tom a gold-star award for his wage standards, his benefit standards, his promotion policy, and also the racial equality in his restaurants. Tom is honestly one of the best we’ve seen in these categories,” she told TakePart.


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