Chef John Besh has stepped down from the Besh Restaurant Group following a report from the Times Picayune in which 25 women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment at the company.
The incidents of harassment occurred within the organization itself and at restaurants under its umbrella. Two employees have specifically filed sexual discrimination and retaliation complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since December, but the picture provided by the women to the paper paint a picture of general harassment:
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.
Besh is specifically named as an alleged assailant. In one complaint, he is accused by a former employee of continuing to “attempt to coerce (her) to submit to his sexual overtures.” They did engage in a sexual relationship, and she says she was subjected to “retaliation” after ending it. She also alleges Besh used their work relationship as a way to gain access to her sexually:
In one instance mentioned in the woman’s complaint, she alleged that during a summer 2015 work trip to Los Angeles, Besh “insisted (she) drink heavily” at a work tasting, and that afterwards Besh came to the woman’s hotel room and “immediately started to kiss and fondle” her. The complaint said she “was barely conscious, and easily overwhelmed by JBesh (sic), who engaged in oral sex and fell asleep” next to her. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune is not naming the woman, who declined a request for an interview.
In response to the report, Besh released a statement that characterizes his relationship with this employee as consensual:
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.
Now, the Advocate reports that company executive Shannon White wrote in a letter restaurant staff that Besh “has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on this family.” A spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the letter, though they offered no follow up about Besh’s ownership of the Besh Restaurant Group or its future (including the name).