Woman sues Red Robin, says she was fired for opposing racism

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A northern Idaho woman is suing the national restaurant chain Red Robin in federal court because she says she was fired for complaining about racist hiring practices.

Stacie Ward of Post Falls filed the whistleblower lawsuit on Tuesday, contending that a manager at the Coeur d'Alene restaurant refused to consider a job applicant because he was black, and that when she complained, managers retaliated by making up complaints about her and firing her.

Red Robin spokesman Kevin Caulfield declined to comment about the lawsuit, but he said the company is an equal opportunity employer that prohibits discrimination in hiring as well as discriminatory behavior in the workplace.

Ward worked for Red Robin in about 10 different restaurants in the West before moving from Spokane, Washington, to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to help open a Red Robin restaurant there in 2007, according to the lawsuit. Another Red Robin employee from Spokane, a black man named Dana, came with her to the Idaho store, Ward contends, but he was fired shortly after the store opened, ostensibly for wearing headphones while on duty.

Ward said that as the lead bartender and a certified trainer, she was responsible for screening and interviewing all potential bartenders as well as most other potential employees, though managers had the final say over who would be offered a position.

In the lawsuit, Ward said a young black man applied for a busing job at the restaurant in 2012, and after meeting him she wanted him to move to the next phase of hiring, a formal interview.

But Ward contends that when the assistant manager at the time saw the man and realized he was black, the manager pulled Ward aside and told her that they don't hire people of color in the store. Ward contends the manager used a racial slur when referring to people of color, and the manager said that was why Dana had been fired previously.

Ward said that she protested that decision, and that as a result the managers began making up complaints about her and fired her a short time later. She contends that as a result of the firing, she lost her house, her health insurance and her retirement savings.

Ward filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and issued Ward a formal notice of right to sue Red Robin.

"There was only one reason she got fired, and that was for speaking up," Ward's attorney, Douglas Pierce, said in a prepared statement.

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