Jessica Benefield won the Scene's Iron Fork competition in April and, it seemed, was riding high as the chef of one of Nashville's higher profile restaurants.
But back at Virago, Benefield says in a lawsuit filed in federal court, M Street honcho Chris Hyndman had created a boys club atmosphere where women were rated on their looks. On the day she complained about it by email to M Street's human resource department, she was fired.
In the email and in her complaint, Benefield says Hyndman regularly verbally abused female employees and commented on their physical appearance — rating them as "far-away hot," "up-close-and-personal hot" or "dirty 19-year-old hot." Benefield, the only female executive chef in the M Street organization, says she was subjected to scrutiny not shared by her male counterparts.
According to a court filing, Benefield was fired the same day she sent the email. According to her separation notice, Benefield was fired for an "inability to manager and operate restaurant efficiently," "refusal to cooperate in the implementation of necessary operational and management procedures," and "making false and malicious statements regarding superiors."
The suit — read it in full here — claims Benefield had never been reprimanded previously for poor management or refusal to cooperate. Indeed, her only performance review, from September 2012, rated her as "excels," lauds her as "the most committed culinarian on campus," and resulted in a 20 percent raise.
Benefield is claiming violations of the Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, plus retaliatory discharge and tortious interference. She seeks front and back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees.