Poor Yelp reviews — and not retaliation — are why this rude restaurant hostess got fired


The hostess at an Asian-American restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, was employed in that role for about two years.

Two years the restaurant probably wishes it could have back.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the owners and general manager observed that the hostess was impatient with guests, gave curt responses, avoided eye contact, and answered the phone without an appropriate greeting on numerous occasions, which often required intervention. She refused to properly notify the restaurant of her scheduling availability and preferences, stored personal items in the host stand, and used personal electronic devices in front of guests. Once, the restaurant sent her home for the day when she used an iPad for personal reasons while working.

Customers noticed the plaintiff’s attitude, too. It started with Three bad Yelp reviews in a week. Over time, the bad Yelp reviews ballooned to seven, all critical of the hostess.

On August 26, 2017, the hostess emailed the new front-of-house manager, expressing frustration at feeling singled out for criticism and disrespect. She mentioned gender twice throughout the email: once to complain that “[male coworkers] do and say very inappropriate things,” and once to assert that the environment is “degrading for women.” However, the email did not connect her gender to the criticism she felt she received. On the contrary, she complained that the restaurant favored other women over her.

Less than a month later, the restaurant received an eighth negative Yelp review about the hostess. And enough was enough for the restaurant’s General Manager, who decided to fire the hostess. He delivered the news two days later.

That same day — go figure — the hostess emailed the front-of-house manager, complaining that men at Mott Street “say and do inappropriate things that I find to be very uncomfortable” and specifically complaining about gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

As you’ve probably discerned by now, the hostess became the “plaintiff” (and the restaurant, the “defendant”) in an ensuing Title VII lawsuit. There were several claims, but I want to focus on the retaliation component.

Can anyone spot the obvious problems with the retaliation claim?

To prevail, the plaintiff must show that she complained about discrimination, and the defendant fired her for it. Here, only the second email mentioned discrimination (the first was too vague). The second email, while really close to her termination, was actually sent after the defendant decided to fire her. Therefore, that couldn’t have been the reason.

Ultimately, the plaintiff could not demonstrate that her termination for myriad performance issues was a pretext for retaliation.

Still, this is an expensive litigation lesson for the restaurant — it ain’t cheap to defend these things. Next time, hire slow and fire fast.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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