Amanda Breaud, 25, filed the lawsuit in state Superior Court in Monmouth County, New Jersey, on Tuesday. She was fired from the chain in May 2019.
Breaud says that in January 2019 she was temporarily transferred from an Applebee’s in Tinton Falls to one in Middletown where she experienced unchecked racism and bigotry. She believes she was fired for her complaints about the behavior.
The defendants named include Applebee’s and the franchisee of the Middletown location, Doherty Management Services, as well as a general manager, a senior manager and a bartender involved in the anti-Muslim conversation.
According to the lawsuit, Breaud ‘was exposed to a hostile work environment where racism and bigotry were commonplace ‘ and that a senior manager ‘routinely directed racist and discriminatory language’.
Breaud, who is from New Jersey, claims that when the uncle of an African American employee died, the senior manager said: ‘Well, this is one less black guy we have to worry about.’
She also claims another staff member was called ‘a f—— retard’ in front of their co-workers.
The claim brought against the Applebee’s bartender involves an incident from May 13, 2019, in which Breaud alleges the bartender was ‘participating in the offensive, discriminatory conversation’ that involved anti-Muslim remarks. She says the bartender had done nothing to stop it.
Breaud said she had received several complaints as supervisor that day from customers who were offended by the comments which included derogatory comments such as ‘Muslim people are disgusting’, ‘most of them are terrorists’ and ‘if it were up to me, none of those motherf—— would be allowed in the country’.
She claims the first complaint was made to her regarding the bartender involved in the conversation and that two families then asked her to intervene over the ‘offensive conversation’ and ‘pleaded with her to do something to end it’.
The conversation is said to have been sparked by a news report on refugees showing on a nearby TV.
When Breaud asked the customer making the comments to leave, she says they became irate and yelled at her before eventually leaving. He is said to have been a regular at the bar.
In the lawsuit, she offered a copy of a receipt she says is from one of the customers who made a complaint.
‘To the manager – thank you for standing up to hate and racism. Thank you for your service,’ a note on the receipt reads.
Following the incident, Breaud said she ‘faced immediate hostility and retaliation from staff and management for her actions’ and the bartender in question openly complained about her to other customers.
She lost out on tips from regulars as a result.
The lawsuit says Breaud’s manager called her the night of May 13 to tell her she acted wrongly and should have relocated the customers who complained instead of asking the customer making the anti-Muslim comments to leave.
‘My jaw hit the floor,’ Breaud told NJ Advance Media. ‘I couldn’t believe that he told me that.’
After the fallout, she told the Applebee’s area director that she wished to be transferred out of the Middletown branch because the work environment but her transfer request was denied.
Instead, the lawsuit says she was scheduled to continue to work shifts in the Middletown branch, which she refused as she was ‘unable to tolerate even a single day more in the the hostile work environment’.
On May 20, 2019, Applebee’s fired Breaud claiming she failed to turn up for a scheduled shift.
The lawsuit says this is a ‘false and retaliatory accusation’ and that the work environment ‘made it nearly impossible for her to perform her duties’.
After her firing, Breaud wrote a letter to the restaurant in question in which she said:
‘That is not the message I want to send my guests. I want them to feel safe and leave WOWed.
‘I would leave there in tears a lot of the time, honestly.
‘I had severe anxiety. I was losing sleep…It wore me down mentally and physically the entire thing.’
A statement from her attorneys McOmber & McOmber said: ‘The retaliation experienced by our client has no place in a civilized society and Applebee’s must be held to account for its failure to oppose racism in its restaurants and for violating our client’s rights.’
Applebee’s made two separate statements about the lawsuit saying that the accusations were being taken very seriously, one claiming that Breaud’s allegations are false.
‘We are proud that our Applebee’s restaurants serve the community as an inclusive place where neighbors can come together, and that extends to both our guests and our dedicated team members,’ said Ed Doherty, chairman and chief operating officer of Doherty Enterprises, an Applebee’s franchise that owns the Middletown branch from which Breaud was fired.
He added that her dismissal was due to a different matter and not her May 13 interaction with a customer.
Susan Nelson, Applebee’s vice president of communications, said in a separate statement: ‘The allegations made are in direct contrast with the values we and our franchisees uphold every day’.
Breaud is seeking her job back, with back pay and benefits, as well as damages.