If you or someone you know has had an experience of harassment, misconduct or sexual-based violence you can reach Safer at 805-756-2282 and the Title IX Office at 805-756-6770.

To former Campus Dining employee Bobbi Gibson, the new executive chef seemed “really nice and friendly” at first. 

“I eventually realized he was being too friendly,” said Gibson, who worked at Campus Dining from 2015 to 2020, as both a student and Cal Poly alum. “The first time I met him he was asking about my boyfriend, and I told him I didn’t have one. At first, I thought it was an honest mistake, but he kept doing it.”

Gibson ignored the “weird comments,” brushing him off as “flirty.” But Rensford Abrigo, now in his 40s, started making more overt comments to the then-25-year-old Gibson.

“One time I had dropped something, and I picked it up and he was like, ‘Oh, do you want to drop that in front of me again?’” Gibson said.

Gibson slowly stopped interacting with Abrigo just a few months after he started working. She didn’t yet think she should file a complaint with Human Resources, though.

“I didn’t realize it was happening to other people, too,” Gibson said.

Gibson was one of five current and former Campus Dining employees who say former executive chef Rensford Abrigo made repeated inappropriate comments toward women and had a prohibited relationship with an 18-year-old employee. When employees filed complaints, they say Cal Poly Corporation (CPC) — which oversees Campus Dining — failed to respond. 

Abrigo worked at Campus Dining for more than two years after the employees say they told HR about his behavior. He continues to work with CSU students as San Francisco State University’s executive chef  — a situation that employees say could potentially cause further harm.

CPC repeatedly refused to release records of any sexual harassment and misconduct complaints filed by employees, writing to Mustang News that “there is little or no public interest in how the Corporation addresses claims of misconduct or even sexually-related misconduct regarding its Dining employees.” 

Jennifer Wharton, the CPC’s human resources director who left the company in August, said in an email to Mustang News that, if there were a need for an employee to be disciplined, then the Corporation “addressed the complaint and took action.”

“So what then is the public interest in second guessing how much discipline was issued — especially regarding an employee who no longer works for the Corporation?” Wharton wrote.

In another email, Wharton wrote: “Your request does not concern public officials, or teachers of small children, or malfeasance of public funds, or an office of general public interest. Your request concerns employees who make and serve food. Why exactly is there a public interest in complaints against such employees? There is none.”

CPC is an “auxiliary organization” of the CSU, and the McKee Transparency Act — a law applying specifically to CSU and UC auxiliaries — compels them to release similar records as they would under the California Public Records Act.

And though CPC may not technically be public, the public university it operates under requires every freshman to interact with CPC by buying a Campus Dining meal plan, generating more than $17 million in Corporation revenue.

An attorney from Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, representing CPC, said in a Feb. 27 email that CPC does not deny the existence of complaints against Abrigo, but that Mustang News is “not entitled to any additional information.”

Working at Campus Dining from April 2019 to Fall 2021, Abrigo oversaw roughly 40 students and full-time employees day-to-day and took part in job interviews and hiring recommendations, according to CPC spokesperson Aaron Lambert.

Campus Dining featured Abrigo several times in their digital marketing and described him as a “huge asset” to the organization.

Mustang News sent eight emails to Abrigo’s current work email – which was provided by San Francisco State Campus Dining – from October 2022 to February 2023, receiving no response. SFSU did not respond for comment.

CPC’s employee handbook says that the organization will inform any employee about the “action taken” based on their sexual harassment complaints. Employees who said they complained to HR claimed they were never informed of any discipline.

When Mustang News asked if CPC had investigated Abrigo’s conduct, Lambert said they cannot discuss HR investigations.

“Cal Poly Corporation takes complaints of inappropriate conduct very seriously, and all such reports are responded to quickly and appropriately,” Lambert wrote. “The Human Resources review process is robust and provides a fair and thorough investigation of all claims.”

CPC denied Mustang News’ request for documents with employee names redacted to shield their identities, arguing that California state code “expressly requires all employers to maintain a complaint process that is confidential.” However, the single state code they cited explicitly says CPC cannot “indicate that [an] investigation will be completely confidential.”

On Feb. 6, CPC’s new HR director Tiffany Kramlich said she’d send a “more detailed response” to the records requests. She later said she was not allowed to talk with Mustang News and referred to Aaron Lambert.

The CPC handbook urges employees to talk with their direct supervisors about sexual harassment complaints before approaching HR. Former full-time Campus Dining supervisor Ashleigh Toscano said this policy was ineffective.

“The directors were very into the chain of command,” Toscano said. “I would have to take [a complaint] to my direct supervisor, and then they continue to run it up the line. So a lot of the time I wouldn’t even hear if anything was done about it because by that time, it was too far away from me.”

Johnson said higher-ups in Campus Dining advocated for using the chain of command to lodge complaints.

“Whatever you do, don’t break the chain of command, or else you’ll piss people off,” Johnson said.

California law requires Campus Dining to “[provide] a complaint mechanism that does not require an employee to complain directly to his or her immediate supervisor.”

“I was being groomed”

Leanne — a former Campus Dining employee who asked to be referred to by her middle name out of fear of legal retaliation from CPC — met Abrigo in Spring 2019 during his job interview when she was a 17-year-old assistant supervisor. She took a leave of absence in April 2019, returning in August as an 18-year-old. Then, she said Abrigo began making comments to her, such as, “I would marry you if I could.”

“There were inappropriate conversations with a lot of people continuously, whether it be men towards women, women towards men,” Leanne said. “There were inappropriate conversations all the time.”

They soon exchanged phone numbers and the nearly 40-year-old Abrigo started texting her.

Eventually, she said they began having sex “pretty much daily” in his office in the Building 19 Dining Facility, which closed for renovations in 2020. 

“He had told me he was separated from his wife, this and that,” Leanne said. “It got very personal — not conversations you’d have with coworkers generally.”

Leanne started doing “tedious little tasks” for Abrigo like cleaning his “special pots and pans.” She said she received perks in exchange such as getting to taste new food first.

“It was a, ‘Hey, I’m in charge,’” Leanne said. “There’s this dirty little secret between us and you should do this for me. I think there was a power trip sort of thing going on there.”

Leanne said she felt trapped in the relationship.

“I couldn’t say no to certain things,” Leanne said. “It was like, ‘Well, you’re my boss. While this is going on, if I don’t do something, obviously you have more power than me to start me losing my job.’ I felt like it had to continue while I was working there.”

Leanne said Abrigo often drank during work hours, storing bottles of wine and other alcohol in his office.

“That was a perk of the job — that I would get to go in there and drink with him,” Leanne said. 

Leanne said Abrigo would make comments to her about female workers’ “physical appearances, things like, ‘oh yeah, she has a great ass,’” and that some student employees would tell Leanne how Abrigo was “flirtatious and kind of bothersome.”

At a small get-together with at least four other coworkers in late September 2019, Leanne said she revealed the relationship while drunk, briefly showing at least three coworkers text messages between her and Abrigo.

She said her coworkers seemed “perturbed” about the relationship between Abrigo and Leanne.

“I think deep down within I knew that there was something wrong with it, which is probably why I said anything in the first place,” Leanne said.

Soon after the get-together, Leanne became fearful of repercussions when word spread among her coworkers. 

According to the CPC handbook, relationships are “forbidden” and employees who violate this rule “will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.” 

In early November 2019, she quit her job.

“I was being groomed; I felt like I had to protect [Abrigo] instead of myself,” Leanne said. “I felt like I would lose my job because obviously an executive chef is a hard position to fill. My position? Not hard to fill.”

Shortly after she quit, three employees who attended the September get-together said they told Wharton, CPC’s HR director at the time, about Abrigo and Leanne’s relationship.

Leanne said no one from CPC ever contacted her to ask about the relationship.

In what she estimates was December 2019, Leanne said Abrigo “nonchalantly” texted her that he had received just a “write-up.” Shortly after that, she ended their relationship and cut off communication with him, deleting Abrigo’s contact information and texts.

“It was just really frustrating knowing that I had made a complete career change and ran away from my job and really he was the point of authority in that relationship, and he felt completely fine about his job and that no repercussions were going to come from it,” Leanne said.

Leanne said she thought HR should have “appropriately taken” action to prevent Abrigo from working with students — like he does at San Francisco State — after learning about the relationship from other employees.

“It’s just purely disgusting that he can get away with that and continue working in an environment with a bunch of vulnerable women,” Leanne said. “There’s more harm that could be done.”

“I don’t think I’ve necessarily worked through it completely,” she continued. “It seemed so silly to me before, but it messes with you.”

“Was he just given a slap on the wrist?”

Former employee Jessica Johnson met Abrigo the week he started working at Campus Dining. After a couple of months, she said he started making uncomfortable comments toward her.

“He made a comment multiple times about, ‘How do you not have 20 boyfriends’ with a smile,” Johnson said.

Toscano, the former supervisor (who is Johnson’s friend), said Abrigo made similar comments to her. Toscano also said that on another occasion, she witnessed Abrigo comment on a female manager’s butt in front of the manager. That manager refused to speak with Mustang News.

Johnson was close friends with Leanne and attended the September get-together. Johnson and Toscano both said they saw now-deleted texts between Leanne and Abrigo on Leanne’s phone. Soon after that, Johnson said she told her manager in the 805 Kitchen about Abrigo’s and Leanne’s relationship.

The manager said she didn’t remember that conversation with Johnson ever occurring and was adamant that she wouldn’t “comment on rumors” when asked about Abrigo.

Former Campus Dining assistant director Greg Yeo said the manager approached him in his office and told him a “rumor” about a relationship Abrigo was having with an employee, but he said the manager didn’t tell him Leanne’s name.

“I didn’t really have any hard facts or anything,” Yeo said. “We, the management, just never dealt with gossip. I said if you hear of the employee’s name, tell them to reach out to me or go to HR if they have concerns.”

Johnson said she told the manager Leanne’s name.

Weeks later, Johnson and Toscano both said Wharton called them into HR separately, where they told Wharton about Abrigo’s comments toward them and his relationship with Leanne.

“We were told that it was addressed [by Wharton], but we weren’t allowed to know how it was addressed,” Toscano said. “As far as we know, nothing happened. Nothing changed, anyways.”

Wharton declined to comment on these claims.

Soon after they talked to Wharton, Johnson said she didn’t see Abrigo for a “couple weeks.”

“He came back,” Johnson said. “The comments did stop, and I feel like he was more aware of what he was saying to people, but I don’t feel like there were any repercussions for it at all.”

Johnson said she thinks Abrigo should have been terminated because of the relationship from Leanne.

“That is such a breach of your position of power, and it also could seem like a threat to student life,” Johnson said. “The fact that he was able to move on and get another job in the CSU is very off-putting to me.”

Toscano said she was angry Abrigo wasn’t fired after she told HR about his inappropriate comments and the prohibited relationship.

“None of it was hearsay,” Toscano said. “And a lot of us were saying the same thing. The thing that made me most uncomfortable was that we all still had to keep working with him without knowing if anything happened — was he just given a slap on the wrist?”

Johnson said the events made her lose faith in CPC’s management.

“It made me feel that the higher ups, especially the men, could kind of get away with whatever they wanted to at that point,” Johnson said.

“Nothing came of it — he kept working there.”

Bobbi Gibson also attended the get-together, and she said she was shocked when Leanne showed her the texts mentioned above.

“It was something along the lines of ‘I want to see you again, when should we meet up,’” Gibson said. “It was clear they had more than just a work relationship.”

A few weeks after Leanne quit, Gibson was approached by Campus Dining managers. Gibson said she told them about the comments Abrigo had made to her, such as, “You can have any guy you want.” 

Gibson said she felt the managers listened to her. Then, she was called into HR, where she said she told Jennifer Wharton about the comments. She said she also remembers telling Wharton that “[Leanne’s] situation was what I thought was truly inappropriate” — referencing Leanne’s relationship with Abrigo with the understanding that other employees had already told Wharton about it.

“She alluded that they would look into it and do something,” Gibson said. “But nothing came of it. He kept working there.”

Gibson, who left Campus Dining shortly after making the complaints, criticized CPC for letting Abrigo keep working, especially around students, after they learned of the relationship and the inappropriate comments.

“The executive chefs are one of the top positions,” she said. “He should have been fired.”

Another employee — who asked not to be named because they still work at Campus Dining — said that for years, they have tried to block out their experiences working with Abrigo. They recalled an instance where he physically intimidated them, standing in a doorway and blocking them from moving past while they were walking between Building 19 and the University Union.

“He was super close where he could look down into my shirt,” they said. “I can’t remember what he said off the top of my head, but it just really made me uncomfortable, especially because I couldn’t move around and he was so close to me.”

The source said Campus Dining HR reached out to them and other workers who “had a complaint or bad experience” with Abrigo. They said they first had an individual conversation with Yeo and then another conversation with Wharton.

“It happened to all of us in a different way but we all just felt like, ‘Why would he say things like that?’” they said.

The employee lost confidence that action would be taken against Abrigo after their meeting with Wharton.

“I talked with Jennifer Wharton who said, ‘we’re all looking into this,’” the source said. “But she couldn’t say what [Abrigo’s] punishment was going to be or if he was going to get reprimanded in any way.”

The source continued to work with Abrigo for two more years after they complained to HR about their complaints.

In addition to prohibiting relationships, the CPC Handbook prohibits sexual harassment and “physical conduct such as assault, unwanted touching, blocking normal movement or interfering with work because of sex, race or any other protected basis.”

Campus Dining employees are “used to discomfort”

Cal Poly alum Deanna Savelson, who worked at Campus Market in 2019 and 2020, said she saw her supervisors and managers ignore inappropriate behavior and was uncomfortable approaching them with complaints.

“I didn’t see them really stick up for the employees, and that made me hesitant to approach them about it,” Savelson said. “I think the answer defense is, ‘what was I supposed to do?’”

Natalia Arriaga, a former Campus Dining employee who transferred out of Cal Poly last year, said student employees often didn’t report inappropriate comments or behavior from coworkers.

“We kind of just laugh it off or change the subject,” Arriaga said. “We don’t really talk about it. We’re students, we don’t have time to do a report on it. We’re just trying to get by.”

Savelson highlighted the power imbalance that exists between middle-aged Campus Dining employees and teenage students.

“You’re a kid,” Savelson said. “It’s scary to have to deal with these men.”

Wharton wrote that the public records request’s attempt to “characterize the students that our Dining employees come into contact with as ‘teenage’ is simply misleading” because most Cal Poly students are “adults,” at least 18 years old.

Savelson said Campus Dining’s “disgusting” physical workplace normalizes unacceptable behavior toward employees.

“When you’re used to being uncomfortable…these other kinds of things, like someone’s saying this to you, they begin to register as minor inconveniences,” Savelson said.

Savelson said it took her a long time to realize how uncomfortable Campus Dining’s work environment made her, and while she worked there, she just told herself to “suck it up.”

Johnson, who left Campus Dining in 2021, said the Campus Dining environment was so toxic that she sometimes felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“I forgot that having a job doesn’t mean going home and crying,” Johnson said.

“Cal Poly needs to do better”

Former workers said Cal Poly should hold all employees on campus to the same standard —regardless of if they’re a professor or if they “make and serve food.” They called on Cal Poly to improve background checks and diligence during the hiring process.

Savelson wants Campus Dining to explain why higher-ups did not have more serious conversations about problematic employees when they learned about misconduct.

“If you keep someone on the job, it’s kind of like a tap on the wrist like, ‘hey, don’t do that anymore,” Savelson said. “But here, we’re going to put you back in this environment that clearly incites you to act like that.”

Several sources suggested changing the structure of mandatory sexual misconduct trainings.

“We’ve all been through those trainings,” Savelson said. “How helpful do we really find them, especially if you’re already behaving like that? We need some new tactics to prevent them.”

She said the issue highlights a bigger problem that Cal Poly faces.

“Sexual assault is a systemic issue,” Savelson said. “Cal Poly just doesn’t change how it systemically functions. And that’s the problem.”

While this story wasn’t published as quickly as we had initially hoped — in part due to multiple attempts to reach individuals and obtain public records — Mustang News spoke to more than 20 current and former Cal Poly Corporation employees to ensure the most accurate descriptions of the events reported below. Anonymity was granted only in cases where there was legitimate reason to believe the sources could be retaliated against, legally or otherwise. Do you have any information relevant to this topic? If so, please contact cgpressl@calpoly.edu.