The McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group, one of the largest restaurant operators in Austin, has placed its wine director, Ryan Arnold, on leave following a lawsuit filed in Chicago last week accusing Arnold of sexual harassment.
A former publicist for Arnold’s former employer, Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, filed suit last week in Cook County Circuit Court, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The complaint filed by Emily Wong accuses Arnold of “sexual assault, battery and false imprisonment, as well as Lettuce Entertain You of liability for employing Arnold, negligent supervision, retaliatory discharge and violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act,” according to the Tribune. It also accuses both Arnold and his former employer of sexual harassment.
McGuire Moorman, which operates Jeffrey's, Perla's, Clark's and more, announced their hiring of Arnold in April, but said in a statement Tuesday they had no knowledge of the alleged incident.
“Last Friday, McGuire Moorman Hospitality was made aware of serious allegations against our wine director Ryan Arnold while in his previous role at Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You,” McGuire Moorman Hospitality said in a statement Tuesday. “Ryan is currently on a leave of absence while our Human Resources and leadership teams conduct an internal investigation of the accusations and carefully review his conduct since he joined MMH’s team in March. MMH was not aware of any accusations against Ryan prior to his employment with us nor have we received any during his employment. MMH, and the restaurants it manages, are committed to ensuring all employees have a safe and supportive work environment, free of harassment of any kind.”
According to the Tribune, the complaint states that Wong reported Arnold’s alleged behavior to a co-worker the night of the incident. Wong told the Tribune that a week later she alerted two supervisors and about 10 days later she was placed on paid leave.
“We care deeply for our employees and our reputation is built on integrity, transparency and strong values,” said Jay Stieber, executive vice president and general counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, in a statement issued to the Statesman on Tuesday. “Although we cannot comment on pending litigation we took every appropriate step to investigate and respond to Ms. Wong’s concerns the moment they were brought to our attention. We are committed to the principle that every employee shares a mutual responsibility to treat each other with respect and dignity, and to providing a work environment that is free of harassment of any kind.”
Lettuce Entertain You did not comment on the exact timeline or nature of Wong's departure from the company.
Arnold’s lawyer Patrick M. Cummings of Chicago firm Ciardelli, Cummings & Campagna wrote in a separate statement, “In our country anyone can make allegations, and for whatever reason. All Mr. Arnold can do is to prove in court that they are absolutely untrue, and that is what we will do. It would be inappropriate to discuss any of those allegations at this time but I am confident the truth will come out in the ligation.”