Restaurant worker fired after reporting sexual harassment - | WBTV Charlotte

Restaurant worker fired after reporting sexual harassment

(Corey Schmidt | WBTV) (Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
Lauren Jones (Corey Schmidt | WBTV) Lauren Jones (Corey Schmidt | WBTV)

A local woman called On Your Side Investigates for help after she was fired for reporting sexual harassment.

Lauren Jones had been working as a waitress at Sonny’s Barbecue at the Arboretum for about a month when, she said, a manager came up behind her and grabbed her butt while she was preparing to leave for the night.

“I immediately turned around with my left elbow, and kind of surprisingly looked at him in his face, and said ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’” Jones said.

At first, Jones said she questioned whether or not to report the incident. Ultimately, she said she decided to report what happened in hope of preventing similar incidents in the future.

“I was like, ok fine, let’s approach him and let’s tell him what he did was messed up and that he could never ever do that again,” Jones explained. “I specifically told him I’m not looking for a lawsuit, I’m not looking for anything. If we can handle in the four walls of Sonny’s, I’m ok with that.”

Ultimately, Jones reported what happened to who managers. A short time later she had a meeting with the general manager of her restaurant and the owner of the company that holds the Sonny’s franchise, Ed Tubel.

The man Jones claimed grabbed her was also at the meeting, along with an HR representative for the franchise company.

“They started off saying how important it was that they got to the bottom of this,” Jones recalled of the meeting. “They at first wanted me to tell my side of the story, but when I tried to, I got cut off by the owner. He wouldn’t even let me get what happened in.”

Jones recorded the meeting and provided a copy of the recording to On Your Side Investigates.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to hear the audio recording

In it, Tubel is heard saying he does not believe Jones because of her short tenure at the restaurant.

“The problem is you’ve been with us less than a month and he’s been with us 15 years,” Tubel said of Jones and the man accused of grabbing her.

“He has never had anybody ever accuse him of that because he’s never done it. So, that’s our position right now,” Tubel is heard saying. “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 said she did not want to quit her job but was told she was fired.

UPDATE: Sonny's BBQ responds to negative social media comments sparked by investigation

“We don’t want you to quit, we’re terminating you right now,” Tubel said at the end of the recording. “You’re terminated. And you’re not allowed on the property, you hear me?” he said to Jones before the recording ends.

Employment law attorney Chris Strianese - who is not involved in this case - reviewed the recording provided by Jones. He said what he heard could be a violation of federal labor laws.

My initial impression is that if you’re going to put together a seminar on the wrong way to fire someone, this would be the first exhibit in that seminar,” Strianese said. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents and prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. But it also prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Jones has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for investigating alleged violations of employment law. That complaint is the first step towards taking legal action against Jones’ former employer for firing her.

“If I were on that jury, and I deal with this a lot, I would have a very easy time concluding that that’s what’s going on, and that the employer has engaged in illegal conduct here,” Strianese said. “The consequences for this are really quite serious. Judges and juries do not like employers who retaliate.”

On Your Side Investigates spoke with the president of Tubel’s franchise company, Tricor, Inc, Theresa Randall. She declined a request for an on-camera interview but provided a written statement by email.

“Sonny’s Bar B Q has operated established family oriented restaurants in the Charlotte area for 37 years. It is unfortunate that a person who was employed at one of our restaurants for less than a month has decided to take her grievances to the news media. Sonny’s will not respond to personnel matters through the news media.”

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