Sonny’s Corporate Passes The Buck On Wrongful Termination Of Employee

Lauren Jones (image courtesy Corey Schmidt, WBTV)
Lauren Jones (image courtesy Corey Schmidt, WBTV)

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.

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.┬áTubel 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.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.