Managers at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Overland Park, Kansas, regularly made derogatory remarks about Black customers and even allowed employees to refuse them service, a new federal lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Gerald Gray, claims the reason white employees gave for not serving Black patrons was that “Blacks don’t give good tips.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas on Monday, is being brought by former employee Gary Lovelace, who worked for the chain restaurant as a cook for 12 years before he was fired in 2017, according to the Kansas City Star. The 55-year-old Black man claims he was let go after voicing his concerns about the alleged discrimination, and is now suing his ex-employer for fostering what he called a “racially hostile work environment.”
“Our goal is not only to obtain justice for Mr. Lovelace but to ensure things like this don’t continue in today’s America,” Gray said in a statement. “Based on the public response since this story broke, we are confident in our case.”
Aside from racial bias, Lovelace accuses the company of age discrimination, discrimination based on disability, and retaliation. Buffalo Wild Wings and parent company Inspire Brands are both named as defendants.
Buffalo Wild Wings declined to comment on the lawsuit but said it was investigating the allegations.
“Buffalo Wild Wings values an inclusive environment and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” a spokesperson told the Kansas City Star in a statement Thursday.
According to Lovelace’s complaint, the issues began after the restaurant brought on a new general manager in late 2016 or early 2017. Lovelace claims not only did he witness management’s mistreatment of Black customers, but said he too was subjected to racially offensive remarks. He said the comments were brushed off as “jokes” despite his repeated complaints to management.
Lovelace even recalled one instance where he was introduced to another employee as “the angry Black man” by an assistant general manager.
“Mr. Lovelace became fearful and was often stressed due to the tension he faced on the job during his shifts over the last year of his employment,” his complaint reads.
The former employee also claims he was targeted because of his age and disability.
Lovelace says his manager would grow upset when he requested breaks from working in the freezer, complaining that the cold triggered his asthma. He was deemed “old” when it took him a little longer to complete a task and was regularly disciplined for arriving late to work due to his role as a caretaker for a sick family member, the lawsuit alleges.
Instead of alerting managers ahead of time, Lovelace was told to call in sick and not show up at all when he knew he was going to be late.
The complaint goes on to state that not only did management “force Mr. Lovelace to work less favorable shifts” but they passed him up for jobs and promotions despite his seniority.
Lovelace says the younger, non-black employees didn’t receive the same mistreatment or reprimands. He was ultimately fired in October 2017 after showing up late for a shift.
A former employee seemed to corroborate the allegations on social media.
“I worked at this [Buffalo Wild Wings] location for nearly four years. Accepting environment to all races it was not,” the alleged former employee wrote in a Facebook post. “The victim here is a sweet and kind man, who always brightened up the shift and it hurts my heart that he was discriminated against by the staff who should have been supporting him.”
Lovelace’s lawsuit is seeking $75,000 for lost wages and benefits, as well as for mental and emotional distress.