Late last year, a waitress at a restaurant in Charlotte was leaving for the night when her manager groped her. Now she says that she was the one who ended up being fired for reporting it.
Lauren Jones told WBTV in Charlotte that a month after she started working at Sonny’s BBQ in south Charlotte, she was heading out for the night when the manager on duty grabbed her butt from behind. Jones reacted the way any woman would react–she whirled around and asked, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She was in two minds about reporting the incident, but decided she had to do something in order to ensure there wouldn’t be a next time for this outrageous behavior.
Shortly after reporting it up, Jones sat down for a meeting with Ed Tubel, who holds the franchise for the five Sonny’s outlets in the Charlotte area. Also on hand were the restaurant’s general manager, an HR representative for Tubel’s company, and the manager who groped Jones. You would think that when the restaurant’s owner sits in on a meeting like this, it would be a sign that he was really taking it seriously. Well, you thought wrong.
Jones must have had a hunch that something was up, because she taped the meeting. Listen to the whole thing here. It started out well, with everyone saying that it was important that they “got to the bottom of this.” But when Jones started to tell her side of the story, Tubel cut her off. He wouldn’t even listen to her because–wait for it–she hadn’t been working there that long.
In the recording, Tubel is heard saying:
“The problem is you’ve been with us less than a month and he’s been with us 15 years. He has never had anybody ever accuse him of that because he’s never done it. So, that’s our position right now. So when we get through, you’re going to have to do what you need to and we’re going to do what we need to do.”
Jones knew she couldn’t work in a situation like this, and was on the verge of quitting. But Tubel didn’t even give her the chance. He fired her on the spot.
“We don’t want you to quit, we’re terminating you right now. You’re terminated. And you’re not allowed on the property, you hear me?”
When Jones first reported her boss’ behavior, the last thing she wanted was for it to turn into a legal matter. She specifically told her superiors that “I’m not looking for a lawsuit,” and if all possible wanted to keep the matter “in the four walls of Sonny’s.” However, the ham-handed manner in which she was fired left her with no choice but to report the matter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–the first step in the process of suing Tubel for wrongful termination.
When employment law attorney Chris Strianese heard Jones’ recording, he was dumbfounded at what he heard. Strianese, who is not involved in the case, called it a textbook case of “the wrong way to fire someone.” He reminded us that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only bars sexual harassment, but also bars employers from retaliating against someone for reporting workplace harassment. He thinks that a jury would have “a very easy time” concluding that Tubel broke the law because “judges and juries do not like employers who retaliate.”
Cliffs Notes version: if Tubel is dumb enough to let this go to court, Jones could really draw blood. The only question to my non-lawyer’s mind would be the size of the settlement–and whether Jones ends up owning her former restaurant.
Theresa Randall, the president of Tubel’s company, Tricor, said in an emailed statement that it was “unfortunate” that Jones had decided to go public with her story after working at the restaurant “for less than a month.” In what world is it acceptable for an employer to not only blow off a woman for standing up for herself, but to fire her? I know that any restaurant that treats women in this manner would lose my business.
Perhaps we should ask Sonny’s if this is acceptable behavior for one of its franchisees. Hit them up via this contact form on Sonny’s Website. You can also let them have it on Facebook and on Twitter. The only acceptable solution to this is for Tudel to be stripped of his franchise–immediately.