BOSTON (CBS/AP) — The host of the TV show Top Chef testified in federal court Monday about alleged on-set intimidation and harassment of the show’s cast and crew by members of a local Teamsters union while the show filmed in Boston.
Padma Lakshmi and other members of the show’s cast and crew say local Teamsters used physical violence and threats to try to intimidate them into hiring union labor while filming in the city in 2014.
The men are accused of shouting racial and homophobic slurs at the cast and crew, slashing tires, damaging equipment, and using physical violence.
Four teamsters on trial have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to extort, as well as to aiding and abetting.
Lakshmi told the court she was advised of an issue with the Teamsters, but was told “Don’t worry about it, we’re trying to handle it.”
She said that, as she approached the set in a van with the windows down, the Teamsters blocked the van’s path.
“That’s when I started getting scared,” she said.
She said one of the Teamsters, who was later identified as John Fidler, leaned into the car’s window–getting close enough she could smell him–and told her, “What a pretty face, such a shame, such a pretty face.”
A witness who works in the show’s culinary department said she heard Fidler say he would “mess up [Lakshmi’s] pretty face.”
“I felt he was bullying me,” Lakshmi said. “I felt he was saying, ‘I might hit you.’ … I could feel my heartbeat.”
She said another man shouted an anti-gay slur at her driver.
Lakshmi told the court that she herself is a union member, belonging to Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists–or SAG-AFTRA–but said she does not have any role in hiring for the production company.
The defense called the Teamsters’ actions it a picket, a demonstration–where the Top Chef production crew “was giving it to the Teamsters just as much as they were giving it to them.” The defense also said that police gave the pickets their parameters and that the four men didn’t go beyond the limits.
Before Lakshmi testified Monday, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons took the stand.
She described feeling frightened by the Teamsters, who approached her car as she drove onto the set and yelled at her.
“One of the men put his head into the van and started yelling at us,” Simmons said.
When a defense attorney asked Simmons if she knew the definition of the word “heckling,” Simmons said it was above the level of simple heckling and that she was very afraid and fearful that she’d be hurt.
Last week, producer Ellie Carbajal said the men harassed her with racial slurs and sexist comments during the show’s filming at Steel & Rye in Milton in June 2014.
She also testified that Boston Tourism and Entertainment Chief Ken Brissette said he was holding on to Top Chef filming permits until the show and the teamsters created an agreement.
Brissette said he had made a mistake by having Mayor Marty Walsh appear on the non-union show, which was bad publicity. He thought having union workers hired at the Top Chef production help, according to Carabajal.
According to The Boston Globe, one of the defendants could face jail time for posting on social media during the trial.
Daniel Redmond showed his support for the Teamsters on Facebook, violating a court order.
The judge says he will wait until after the trial to take any action.
The four Teamsters were working on the film Black Mass at the time. They say they were not looking for work for themselves, but were at the time advocating for their union brothers and sisters.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, a fifth Teamster pleaded guilty last year to attempted extortion and was sentenced to two years’ probation with six months of home confinement. Mark Harrington told a judge he was merely trying to get jobs for union members.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karyn Regal reports