An eight-month investigation conducted by NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune has found at least 25 current and former employees of the Besh Restaurant Group (BRG) who say they were victims of sexual harassment while working for the company or for one of its restaurants.
BRG is co-owned by celebrity chef John Besh and the investigation uncovered a series of complaints lodged against Besh and employees of the company:
Taken together, they and other women described a company where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance and – in a few cases – tried to leverage positions of authority for sex. Several women said female colleagues, including in some cases their immediate managers, warned them to beware of "handsy" male supervisors – at times on day one on the job. Those who complained of sexual harassment were berated, ostracized or ignored, the women said.
In addition, two separate complaints alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation have been filed since December with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Reynolds and by another former employee. Reynolds' filing said "vulgar and offensive comments, aggressive un-welcomed touching and sexual advances were condoned and sometimes even encouraged by managers and supervisors" at the Besh Group.
One complaint filed by a former employee with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated Besh had attempted to coerce her into submitting to sexual overtures while she worked for him and that some BRG engaged in retaliation when she attempted to end the relationship. Among the events listed in the complaint is one instance in during a 2015 work trip, when Besh insisted she drink heavily during a work tasting. She alleges he later came to her room and while she barely conscious, forced himself on her and engaged in oral sex before falling asleep next to her.
John Besh has released a statement about the allegations in the complaint:
"Two years ago, I deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team. Since then I have been seeking to rebuild my marriage and come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith. I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do.
I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings. This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father. But it should not taint our incredible team of more than 1,000 employees, nor undermine our unyielding commitment to treating everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, race, age and sexual preference."
In an interview earlier this month with NOLA.com & The Times-Picayune, Besh declined to comment on the allegations other than to state that his relationship with the woman was consensual. He provided a list of female managers at BRG who he said could confirm the relationship was consensual. All of the women contacted did confirm that claim, although a number of women working at the company claimed the culture of harassment at the company was due in part to attitudes at the top, including Besh's "outdated views on gender dynamics, in the workplace and otherwise. "