Famed Chef John Besh stepped down from his restaurant group Monday following sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him and his eponymous company, Besh Restaurant Group, which he co-owns.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune conducted an eight-month investigation into the company, where 25 current and former Besh Group employees said they were victims of sexual harassment during their time at the company and its restaurants. The report claimed that Josh Besh Restaurants fostered a culture of sexual harassment.
Shannon White, the company’s previous chief operating officer, sent an email to employees Monday saying that Besh stepped down from all aspects of operations to focus on his family. White is taking over as CEO. The company, however, will still keep its current name.
NOLA.com reported that two separate complaints alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation were filed since December with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to NOLA.com, “One complaint by a former employee says Besh ‘continued to attempt to coerce [her] to submit to his sexual overtures’ during a months-long sexual relationship while she worked for him.”
Besh responded in a written statement saying it was a consensual relationship with a member of his team.
The company, which was founded in 2005, operates 11 restaurants and a bar and events space in New Orleans, and employs about 1,200 people. It didn’t have a director of human resources until October 11. The report said harassment went unchecked and people who spoke up were often penalized or ignored.
The 25 women said they were subjected to inappropriate touching and verbal abuse, and, in some cases, top-tier individuals tried to use their positions for sex. Besh was included in those allegations.
NOLA.com reported that the group is now establishing an employee assistance program to offer services, including counseling, and provide a confidential phone number for employees to voice their concerns.
Harrah’s New Orleans Casino also severed ties with Besh. It was the home of Besh Steak since 2003.
Carolyn Richmond, Fox Rothschild attorney, says in an email that restaurants need to shore up their human resource practices.
“Restaurants have long ignored the human resources function, and to a great degree have only made a concerted effort to start adding it in the last seven–eight years. With such a diverse workplace including young, entry-level employees from a multitude of cultures, backgrounds, and levels of experience, it's often a hotbed of employee relations problems,” she says. “This sometimes includes harassment nightmares, which do not always come from the top. Line employees often don't understand what a professional workplace is and workplace ‘culture’ may not exist.”
“Human resources becomes imperative in situations like this. Some restaurateurs create the position directly from the line and add employees with no prior human resources experience, which only prolongs the problem,” Richmond continues. “But today, we finally see owners taking the position seriously and hiring professional human resources staff with employee relations experience and implementing comprehensive anti-harassment training and reporting, which is beginning to change the culture.”