Celebrity chef John Besh has stepped down from the company he created, just two days after a New Orleans newspaper published a story alleging Besh and the Besh Restaurant Group (BRG) had "fostered an atmosphere of sexual misconduct."
The story included allegations from more than 20 current and former BRG employees, who recounted multiple claims of sexual harassment, misconduct and retaliation by Besh and other managers in 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.
At the time, Besh released a statement offering his dismay over the allegations and his commitment to giving women in the company a more positive work environment. He also characterized a sexual relationship he had with a former employee as "consensual."
On Monday, BRG executive Shannon White announced that Besh "has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on this family." She also announced she was assuming the role of chief executive officer and outlined a series of steps the company is taking in response to the complaints.
The company - which includes 1,200 employees and a dozen restaurants - has hired an outside consultant to investigate the complaints. It will also create an anonymous employee hotline and will roll out a new employee training schedule that focuses on sexual harassment.
It's not clear whether Besh will divest himself of his ownership stake in the company or whether the Besh Restaurant Group is considering a name change.
Also on Monday, Harrah's announced it was cutting ties with Besh following the reports of sexual harassment within his company. Besh Steak is locatd inside Harrah's New Orleans Casino and is Besh's second-oldest restaurant. Harrah's plans to change the name of the restaurant and will hire another company to run the facility.