John Besh Employees Allege Pervasive Sexual Harassment At His Restaurants

Twenty-five current and former employees of New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh's Besh Restaurant Group say they experienced sexual harassment at work, according to an eight-month investigative report released this weekend by the Times-Picayune.

The Besh Restaurant Group has more than 12 restaurants and employs around 1,200 people. The women who came forward described a "corporate culture where sexual harassment flourished," according to the report. Some described unwelcome touching, suggestive comments, and sexual advances from male coworkers and supervisors on a regular basis.

Nine of the 25 women who spoke to Times-Picayune reporter and restaurant critic Brett Anderson allowed the paper to publish their names.

A former social media manager filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she and other female employees were "sexually harassed, and verbally assaulted almost every day," according to the complaint.

Several of the women reportedly told the Times-Picayune there was no HR department to whom they could complain, only supervisors who were afraid to confront the "good old boys' club."

One woman reportedly said she did complain to a supervisor, who allegedly told her, "You don't want to be a whistleblower, do you?"

Another female employee, who did not speak with the paper, reportedly also filed a complaint with the EEOC. In it she alleged that she engaged in a "long-term unwelcome sexual relationship" with Besh. She alleges that in one case he encouraged her to drink heavily at a work event, then came back to her hotel room and "engaged in oral sex" while she "was barely conscious." She alleges that she experienced retaliation at work when she attempted to end the relationship.

John Besh and Besh Restaurant Group general counsel Raymond Landry both issued statements to the Times-Picayune regarding the allegations.

In his statement, Besh admitted to what he described as a "consensual relationship" with an employee. He called his behavior "unacceptable" and said he is working on rebuilding his marriage.

"I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings," Besh's statement continues. "This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father."

Landry wrote: "We have learned recently that a number of women in our company feel that we have not had a clear mechanism in place to allow them to voice concerns about receiving the respect they deserve on the job."

But "now that we have learned of these concerns," Landry continued, "we believe going forward that everyone at our company will be fully aware of the clear procedures that are now in place to safeguard against anyone feeling that his or her concerns will not be heard and addressed free from retaliation."

The Besh Restaurant Group only recently created an HR department. Its first HR director started work on October 11, just 10 days before the article came out. Sexual harassment is a rampant problem in the foodservice business. Some 90 percent of the roughly 700 female servers across 39 states surveyed by an industry lobbying group in 2014 said they had been subject to sexual harassment on the job, and it can happen at every level of the industry, from quick-service drive-thrus to fine-dining establishments.

The Daily Meal reached out to Besh for a comment but has not received a response.