A former employee of a Waffle House in Goodlettsville has sued the restaurant’s owners, seeking more than $250,000, alleging that he was illegally dismissed from his job in 2012 after complaining that he was being subjected to racial slurs in the workplace.
Attorneys for Robert Lunsford of Goodlettsville, who is black, initially filed the suit against Mid-South Waffles Inc. and Waffle House Inc., of Norcross, Ga., in October in Sumner County Circuit Court, but this week petitioned to move the case to U.S. District Court in Nashville.
Lunsford claims violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, including “unlawful retaliation” by the restaurant chain for terminating his employment after he reported the alleged workplace harassment.
The company denies the charges and said its own internal investigation found no evidence to support Lunsford’s claims.
In the suit, Lunsford says that shortly after he began working at the restaurant, “he began to be subjected to a hostile work environment based on his race, African-American. A (white) female employee regularly referred to him using racially derogatory terms” and he “asked her to stop but she did not.”
Complaints to managers and a company hotline did not stop the woman’s harassment, and a second white female employee also began using the same racial slurs, he says.
He filed a complaint with Waffle House corporate officials, and during an investigation of his claims, he was put on leave by the company and never called back to work, he says.
“Defendants finally notified (Lunsford) of the result of their investigation into his racial harassment complaint” and said “they had not found sufficient evidence to support his allegations,” the suit alleges. The letter did not address Lunsford’s employment status, he says.
Lunsford demands a jury trial and seeks lost wages, as well as “compensatory damages for emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation, loss of dignity, and damage to his reputation in an amount not to exceed $250,000.”
In an emailed statement, Waffle House management denied Lunsford’s charges, saying:
“Mid-South Waffles Inc., and Waffle House Inc., have policies in place that do not tolerate discrimination. We take these charges very seriously and fully investigate any claim. Our internal investigation did not corroborate Mr. Lunsford’s allegations about his employment with Mid-South Waffles Inc. We look forward to presenting our side of the story in the court.”
In a similar case, Waffle House franchisee East Coast Waffles Inc. agreed to pay $25,000 to a black former employee at a Tampa, Fla., Waffle House who was fired in retaliation for “opposing race-based harassment by several customers,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC investigated that case and filed the suit on behalf of the worker.
An employer retaliating against a worker “for complaining about racial harassment, even from third parties such as customers, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the EEOC said.
“The fear of retaliation can prevent employees from raising legitimate concerns with their employer, even when a company has a hotline or some other mechanism for voicing discrimination or harassment complaints,” Malcolm Medley, director of the EEOC’s Miami District Office, said in connection with the Tampa case. “All employers should carefully examine their own policies and practices to ensure compliance with civil rights law.”
Contact G. Chambers Williams III at 615-259-8076 firstname.lastname@example.org.