Chef-restaurateur Mark Sargeant has said he is "horrified" by accusations he sexually assaulted an American Airlines employee but has apologised for behaviour he says showed a "lack of respect".
In January 2018 American Airlines employees including Kimberly Goesling, 52, were in Germany to develop an international menu for first- and business-class passengers. Also on the trip was Sargeant, winner of the 2002 National Chef of the Year competition, who previously held a stake in the Kent-based Rocksalt Group and now works with the group on a consultancy basis.
Miller Bryant law firm representing Goesling said that, on the final night of the group's stay, the chef forced his way into her hotel room and sexually assaulted her.
In a statement, Sargeant said he had some celebratory drinks to mark the end of the trip with the team and took a sleeping pill in anticipation of going to bed.
"I am deeply ashamed of how I then behaved," he said in the statement.
"While intoxicated, I went to Ms Goesling's hotel room under the wrong impression she was interested in me. I made clear that I was interested in her, including by attempting to kiss her. Ms Goesling said she was flattered but that she wasn't interested. Having completely misread the situation and after a short conversation in which I apologised, I left her room. I later apologised again for my behaviour and she said that there was no reason for me to be embarrassed or ashamed.
"While I do not recognise Ms Goesling's version of events, I whole-heartedly apologise for the indignity of my behaviour that night, the dishonour to my wife and the lack of respect shown towards Ms Goesling. Contrary to reports, I have never admitted to sexual assault and I am horrified by these allegations.
"I was embarrassed and ashamed and I also didn't want my wife and family to find out. Ms Goesling and I reached an amicable settlement in 2020 to resolve the matter once and for all. The current legal proceedings are only between Ms Goesling and American Airlines."
He added: "The fact that alcohol mixed with prescription drugs influenced my behaviour is no excuse. My family are my world and I will strive each and every day to re-earn their faith and trust in me."
Sargeant was not criminally charged over the alleged assault.
Attorney Robert Miller is representing Goesling in a lawsuit against the airline. He said: "American is responsible because it hired the predator, it provided the alcohol he drank and then its managers encouraged him to go to Kimberly's room.
"In fact, we'll be able to show that this predator only had Kimberly's hotel room number because a member of American's management team gave it to him."
A statement from American Airlines said: "American has an unwavering commitment to its team members and we're committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for everyone who works at our airline. Immediately after the incident was reported, we conducted an investigation and severed our business relationship with the accused individual. Because this matter involves ongoing litigation, we aren't able to comment further at this time, other than to say that Ms Goesling remains a valued member of our team."
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