The wine director for one of Austin’s most prominent restaurant groups was accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague. Ryan Arnold came on as a new employee at McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group (MMH), the restaurant group behind such big names as Jeffrey’s, Elizabeth Street Cafe, and many others, in March 2019. A complaint filed this October in Chicago alleges that Arnold sexually harassed a colleague during his time as the divisional wine director of Chicago-based restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), as originally reported by the Chicago Tribune and Eater Chicago.
MHH shared the following statement with Eater Austin in response to the news:
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. 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.
Former LEYE public relations associate Emily Wong filed the lawsuit against both Arnold and LEYE in the Cook County Circuit Court last week in Illinois, as obtained by Eater Chicago. In the complaint, she alleges that Arnold “committed an act of sexual penetration [...] using force,” of being “touched [...] without her authorization,” and that she was “unreasonably restrained [...] against her will” on November 5, 2018. She alleges that she was also “constructively terminated” by LEYE after she brought it up to the company’s attention, according to the lawsuit.
The incident allegedly occurred on November 5, 2018, when Arnold and Wong got together at his home to discuss work matters while drinking wine. At one point, they allegedly began to kiss, but then Wong told Arnold “no” several times and physically pushed him away, according to the lawsuit.
Arnold allegedly ignored Wong and “aggressively pushed Ms. Wong back on his couch” and “forcefully lifted Ms. Wong’s shirt and bra” to grope her, as the lawsuit described. She repeatedly told him to stop and “pulled away,” but he “forced his hands” down her pants and underwear and sexually assaulted her, according to the lawsuit. Eater Chicago has the full details on what happened.
Wong is suing both Arnold and LEYE. She accuses Arnold of sexual assault, battery, and false imprisonment; and the company of vicarious liability, retaliatory discharge, negligent supervision, and the violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act; and both parties of sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.
In the suit, Wong is seeking an excess of $50,000 in damages, plus excess of $50,000 in punitive damages. She is also seeking back-pay plus interest, and the “same employment status” she had before the alleged Whistleblower violation.
Arnold’s lawyer Patrick M. Cummings told the Tribune that everything Wong is alleging is “absolutely untrue.”
A statement shared on the behalf of LEYE executive vice president and general counsel Jay Stieber noted that the company “took every appropriate step to investigate and respond to Ms. Wong’s concerns the moment they were brought to our attention.” The statement didn’t offer further details as to what exactly was done or why the company dismissed Wong.
LEYE is opening its first-ever Texas restaurant in Austin next year, an expansion of the company’s Mediterranean restaurant Aba. MMH’s next project is downtown Austin luxury hotel and residential building Austin Proper opening in the winter, which will feature two restaurants, two bars, and a coffee shop — all of which Arnold, as the company’s wine director, is a part of.