Buffalo Wild Wings former cook claims racial discrimination against him and black customers

The suit said the cook saw the management allow servers to deny service to African Americans "or provide them with subpar service."

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A 12-year employee of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Kansas alleged in a lawsuit that he was retaliated against for reporting racial and other forms of discrimination against him and others and safety violations at the restaurant.

Garren Lovelace, who is black, had worked as a cook and kitchen trainer at Buffalo Wild Wings for more than a decade when he started noticing problems at the Overland Park location where he was based, according to a suit against Buffalo Wild Wings and its parent company, Inspire Brands, filed in federal court Monday.

Before 2016, Lovelace, 55, had a good working relationship with the company, and had been instrumental in many Buffalo Wild Wings openings, the lawsuit said.

But when he saw a general manager sexually harass a female employee, he felt he had to report it, the suit said. When a new general manager came on board, things got bad for Lovelace, according to the suit.

The suit said Lovelace was subjected to racial comments made by fellow employees, including an assistant general manager once introducing him as "the angry black man." When Lovelace complained about the comments to his general manager, they were "dismissed as jokes" and no one was punished, according to the suit.

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The general manager instead reacted by making "numerous derogatory statements" about Lovelace being overpaid, and complained that he was "old."

Lovelace also alleged he saw the management make derogatory comments about African American customers and allow servers to deny service to African Americans "or provide them with subpar service."

When Lovelace reported the offensive comments as well as safety issues, such as failing to take measures to keep food fresh, the management retaliated against him by denying him raises and promotions, assigning him to less favorable shifts and giving him tasks such as bundling trash and cleaning floors even though they were not in his job description as a cook, the suit said.

The general manager would also get angry at Lovelace when he requested extra breaks from working in the walk-in freezer because it triggered his asthma, the suit said.

And when Lovelace started caring for a sick family member and was sometimes late for work, he would be disciplined even though he followed protocol, and younger nonblack employees who also showed up late weren't punished, according to the suit.

Lovelace told the management he believed he was being "singled out" and "continued to report discrimination, retaliation and hostile working conditions, but his efforts were futile," the suit said.

He was fired in October 2017 after showing up late for a shift. He alleged in the suit that the management fired him out of retaliation and due to his race, age and disability.

"Our goal is not only to obtain justice for Mr. Lovelace but to ensure things like those alleged in the lawsuit don't continue in today's America," said Lovelace's attorney, Gerald Gray, in a statement sent to NBC News. "There are laws that protect against this type of behavior and if you believe you've experienced discriminatory or retaliatory treatment, seek help."

A Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson said the company takes Lovelace's allegations "very seriously" and is conducting an internal investigation. "Buffalo Wild Wings values an inclusive environment and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind," the statement said.

Lovelace is seeking $75,000 for lost wages and benefits and mental and emotional distress.