Last night, I told you that a waitress at a Sonny’s BBQ here in Charlotte reported being groped by her manager–only to be fired for reporting it. Even worse, the man who owns the Sonny’s franchise for the Charlotte area essentially told her that she couldn’t possibly be telling the truth because the manager had worked for him for years. You’d have thought that corporate headquarters would have taken a strong stand on this outrageous and potentially illegal firing. Well, you thought wrong.
In case you missed it, Lauren Jones recorded a meeting she had with her restaurant’s general manager and the man who owned the restaurant, Ed Tubel. When Jones tried to tell her side of the story, Tubel abruptly cut her off, crassly telling her that she was making the whole thing up because the manager was a 15-year veteran while she had only been working there for a month. He then told her she was fired.
I asked the obvious question–is this acceptable behavior for a Sonny’s franchisee? This is what someone from corporate headquarters in Winter Park, Florida had to say.
@DarrellLucus Franchisees independently own, operate, & staff their restaurants. We value your comments and we're monitoring too.
— Sonny's BBQ (@SonnysBBQ) January 8, 2016
All indications are that this is the official line from Sonny’s. The only response from the company on its Facebook page has been some variation of this:
“Thank you for reaching out to us, (commenter’s name). Franchisees independently own, operate, and staff their restaurants. It’s our understanding that this is an ongoing matter that is being addressed by the franchisee, and we cannot comment at this point. However, we do take these matters seriously and we are monitoring too.”
Apparently Sonny’s forgets that one thing in this case is beyond dispute. Jones was summarily fired for reporting alleged sexual harassment–and got the firing on tape. Listen here. Tubel clearly tells Jones that he doesn’t believe her because she’s been reprimanded three times and has only been there a month. He then told her that it’s best that she work somewhere else.
What Tubel did is clearly illegal; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about harassment. Indeed, as I mentioned yesterday, employment law attorney Chris Strianese says a jury would have “a very easy time” concluding that Tubel broke the law. He added that companies who retaliate like this don’t look good in court.
So here’s the $64,000 question–given that there is a tape of Jones’ meeting with Tubel, what is there for Sonny’s corporate to “monitor”? It would be one thing for the corporate office to take the appearance of neutrality if the facts weren’t in dispute. Unless Sonny’s can explain what need there is for further “monitoring” in this case, it owes Jones an apology. And we probably should find a different place to get our barbecue fix.