Juanita O’Connell, a 60-year-old Taco Bell employee, has sued the company after she says she was fired for hiring Hispanic employees.
O’Connell, who is of Mexican descent herself, has worked at the company since 1987 and was most recently a general manager. In her complaint filed with the district court in Indianapolis, she alleges that last year her operations leader, Mark Lewis, told her not to hire Hispanics. When he came to her store and saw a Hispanic employee, he said, “Didn’t I tell you not to hire Hispanics” or something similar. “She does have a witness who was present when he made that statement,” her lawyer, Joel Paul of the Ramey & Hailey law firm, told ThinkProgress.
About two weeks later, she says a higher up issued her a disciplinary warning “after asking [her] misleading questions about her operation,” the complaint states. Then three hours later, she was fired, told that she violated the manager code and had an I-9 violation.
The complaint also alleges that she was treated differently than other, similar, non-Hispanic, male employees in violation of Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, and other characteristics.
Taco Bell has not returned a request for comment.
O’Connell is seeking “whatever she’s entitled to under the law,” Paul said. In the complaint, she requests Taco Bell pay lost wages and benefits, attorneys’ fees and litigation costs, and any other relief.
She’s not the only one bringing a case against a fast food company that alleges racial discrimination. Two former McDonald’s employees have accused the company of failing to address the racial slurs used by their manager, calling his employees n***er, saying the restaurant got busy at the end of the month because black customers had gotten their welfare checks, and sending them racially charged videos. The women also allege that the manager sexually assaulted and harassed them.
People of color are overly represented in low-paid fast food jobs — restaurants are the single largest employer of people of color, and they make up 35 percent of fast food prep and cook positions despite representing 32 percent of the workforce. But as some of these cases show, the environment can often be racially charged. The restaurant industry is also notorious for gender harassment, as it’s the single-largest source of sexual harassment claims.
Taco Bell emailed the following statement: “While we haven’t been served with the complaint, these are very serious allegations and if true, are not a reflection of our culture or standards. We’ve launched an investigation to get the facts.”