A former line cook at celebrated chef Corey Lee’s Hayes Valley restaurant Monsieur Benjamin, Katherine Ward has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that her direct supervisor Santos Ramirez — a chef who has since been terminated — repeatedly harassed her over the course of a year. The lawsuit names Lee’s restaurant group and Ramirez as defendants. Ward was allegedly “humiliated” and “ostracized” by her coworkers for complaining about the harassment.
Shortly after she was hired in October 2015, Ward alleges that Ramirez began to sexually harass her. His conduct allegedly included unwanted touching and spanking along with sexual comments like “You’ve got a great ass,” “I would love to take you home,” and “bend over.”
In one alleged instance of harassment from November 2015, Ward “was squatting down to lift a lexan of marrow bones in the meat walk-in freezer” when Ramirez “bumped into [Ward] with his groin area and said that it was because of her ‘big booty.’”
“Please stop saying suggestive things to me,” Ward says she told Ramirez along with other admonishments like “that’s not funny,” and “stop it.” Ward says she cut her hair, stopped wearing makeup, and wore loose-fitting clothing in an attempt to abate the harassment.
Ward complained to one chef in July 2016, she claims, but no action was taken. Then in October 2016, after more alleged harassment, Ward says she complained to chef Jason Berthold and Ramirez was terminated immediately.
But Ward claims she “endured immediate retaliation” for speaking out. Coworkers allegedly cited Ward’s actions, not Ramirez’s, as the reason for the added workload in his absence, Ward says. They shunned her and impeding her work. After a few weeks, Ward left Monsieur Benjamin. Her suit for unspecified damages claims she “suffered, and continues to suffer, severe emotional distress.”
In response to Ward’s claims, lawyers for Lee’s restaurant group have issued a lengthy defense which includes claims that “the Plaintiff consented to the alleged conduct of the Defendant,” that “the alleged actions did not reasonably interfere with the Plaintiff’s work performance,” and the “Plaintiff did not suffer emotional distress of sufficient severity and duration so as to justify the recovery of damages for emotional distress.”
“Katherine Ward suffered from humiliating sexual harassment, and the company has not taken responsibility the way it should have,” says Jayme Walker, Ward’s attorney at the Oakland law firm Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer. “She’s seeking full justice under the law for it. The harassment she faced, and the ostracization, ended her burgeoning career in the restaurant industry, which she was so excited about.”
Alicia Kennon, an attorney for Monsieur Benjamin’s restaurant group with the firm Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
Ward’s complaint against Monsieur Benjamin comes amid a litany of suits against high-profile restaurants and chefs, such as a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and his restaurant group last year and a discrimination suit filed against Mario Batali earlier this month. Such allegations bolster the reputation of restaurant kitchens as difficult, unfriendly workplace environments for women and minority populations, where heterosexual men operate with a sense of impunity.
There are many more interesting details in both sides of the case. Read them in full, via the legal documents below :