A former supervisor at an Applebee's in New Jersey is suing the restaurant chain, alleging she was fired after she asked a bar patron who made derogatory comments about Muslims to leave.
The woman, Amanda Breaud, claims in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in state Superior Court in Monmouth County, that in January 2019, she was temporarily transferred from an Applebee's in Tinton Falls to one in Middletown, where she "was exposed to a hostile work environment where racism and bigotry were commonplace."
The lawsuit names Applebee's and the franchisee of the Middletown location, Doherty Management Services, as well as a general manager, a senior manager and a bartender, as defendants.
Breaud, of Eatentown, said a senior manager "routinely directed racist and discriminatory language" at employees.
She said that on one occasion, when an African American employee's uncle died, the manager said, "Well, this is one less black guy we have to worry about."
In a separate incident, the same manager called an employee "a f------ retard" in front of other staff members, Breaud also claims.
Breaud said that on May 13, a customer complained to her that another patron was making derogatory comments about Muslims at the bar, among them that "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."
According to the lawsuit, the customer told Breaud that a bartender, who is also named as a defendant, "was participating in the offensive, discriminatory conversation" and had done nothing to stop it.
Breaud said two other customers also complained to her about the "offensive conversation" and asked her to intervene.
Breaud claims that when asked to leave, the customer became irate, yelled at her and left.
Breaud said that several customers told her they appreciated her actions and that one left a note on a receipt that read: "To the Manager — Thank you for standing up to hate + Rascism [sic]. Thank you for your service."
But the bartender and Breaud's supervisors responded differently. Breaud "faced immediate hostility and retaliation from staff and management for her actions" and received no support from the defendants, according to the lawsuit. The bartender openly complained to staff in front of customers about Breaud's actions, which caused her to lose tips from regular customers, it alleges.
Breaud said the general manager called her that night to berate her for asking the customer to leave. The manager told her that she should have asked the offended customers to move to another area of the restaurant, the suit says.
During the call, the manager also told her that she had no authority to tell customers at the bar to refrain from "discussing religion," the lawsuit states. Breaud said that several days later, she told the Applebee's area director that she could no longer work at the Middletown location because of the hostile atmosphere and asked to be transferred back to the Applebee's in Tinton Falls.
Her request for a transfer was denied, and she was instead scheduled to work three days at the Middletown Applebee's, according to the lawsuit. Breaud refused the change in schedule, and on May 20, she was fired "due to a false and retaliatory accusation that she had not appeared for one of her shifts," the lawsuit states.
Breaud said that after she was fired, she wrote a letter to the defendants documenting the incident on May 13 and detailing the hostile work environment, which "made it nearly impossible for her to perform her duties," the lawsuit alleges.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news
Ed Doherty, chairman and chief operating officer of Doherty Enterprises, an Applebee's franchisee, and Susan Nelson, Applebee's vice president of communications, said in separate statements that their companies took the accusations very seriously.
Doherty said that Breaud's allegations were untrue and that her separation from the restaurant had nothing to do with the guest interaction.
"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," Doherty said.
Nelson said, "The allegations made are in direct contrast with the values we and our franchisees uphold every day."
Breaud is seeking her job back, along with back pay and benefits, as well as unspecified compensatory, consequential and punitive damages. She is also calling for the defendants to undergo anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation training.