James, Vernon & Weeks Files Suit for Whistleblower Who Says She Was Fired for Opposing Racism at Red Robin Restaurant

(COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — Monday, May 18, 2015) – A Post Falls, Idaho woman today filed a civil lawsuit against Red Robin International, Inc. in federal court, alleging that the company wrongfully fired her after she spoke out about unlawful and racially discriminatory hiring practices at the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho restaurant.

Stacie Ward, 46, says in court papers that Red Robin fired her on Oct. 27, 2012 as a lead bartender and certified trainer for the company after a manager told her, “We don’t hire ‘niggers, ’ “ and Ward complained about the company’s unlawful practices aimed at persons of color.

“There is only one reason she got fired, and that was for speaking up,” said James, Vernon & Weeks attorney Douglas Pierce, who filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho in Coeur d’Alene.

The Idaho Human Rights Commission/Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Feb. 26, 2015 issued Ward a Right to Sue letter after conducting its own investigation into her firing and found probable cause that Red Robin had retaliated against her. Ward has 90 days from issuance of the letter to file her case in federal court.

“I was told that if I opened my mouth, I’d be fired,” Ward said, recalling how she spoke out about illegal hiring practices she witnessed. “But sometimes you just have to do the right thing.”

The workplace issues cited in the complaint pertain only to the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho restaurant, court papers say.

“Stacie Ward stood up for the conscience of the community,” said Craig Vernon, law partner with Pierce at James, Vernon & Weeks law firm in Coeur d’Alene.  “Discrimination has no place in our community and is bad for business,” added Lee James, his partner.

Specifically, Ward’s lawsuit says she worked for Red Robin for 12 years, from 2001 to 2012. As an experienced employee, Ward worked at 10 different Red Robin restaurants, including Las Vegas and various restaurants throughout Washington state. In 2007, Ward was recruited by the company to help open the Coeur d’Alene restaurant.

As a certified trainer, Ward screened prospective employees for hiring and conducted the first interview and then referred qualified candidates to the general manager or assistant manager for hiring. During her employment, Ward learned of a young African American male at the restaurant fired for wearing headphones during work. By summer 2012, another African American male college student had applied for a job to bus tables at the Coeur d’Alene restaurant. Ward approved him for hiring, but the assistant manager came out of her office, shook her head “no” upon seeing the young man and explained to Ward, “No, we don’t hire ‘niggers,’ in this store. That’s why we fired Dana,’” court papers say.

Ward reacted with shock and anger and attempted to contact the district manager, but the district manager did not return her calls, court papers say.

Prior to her firing, managers at the Coeur d’Alene restaurant made Ward re-apply for her job and began to critique her every move, court papers say. Ward lost her house, her health insurance and retirement savings when she lost her job.

Wards attorneys say Red Robin retaliated against Ward after her firing when she was unable to find a job at some two dozen restaurants she applied for due to her firing. Meanwhile, the assistant manager who discriminated against the minority employee and fired Ward was promoted to manager.

Federal law states that it is unlawful for a business to fire or refuse to hire an individual on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Federal Law further provides that Ward may seek recompense for injuries and damages, including but not limited to lost wages and damages because of unemployment.

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About James, Vernon & Weeks

James Vernon & Weeks offers a full-service legal practice. Our areas of practice include employment law, business law, civil litigation, personal injury, workers’ compensation, criminal defense, bankruptcy, family law, municipal and administrative law, intellectual property, estate planning, probate administration, real property law, and representation for survivors of sexual abuse. At James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A., we are committed to Helping People Solve Problems.®

Douglas A. Pierce, a skilled and successful litigator, has tried numerous criminal and civil cases before juries, obtaining successful verdicts in both arenas.  Pierce’s practice focuses on criminal law, employment law, general business matters, and family law. Pierce also handles many personal and business bankruptcies in both eastern Washington and northern Idaho, including representation in bankruptcy litigation for both creditors and debtors. Pierce is licensed to practice in both state and federal courts in Idaho and Washington state.

Craig Vernon has more than 20 years courtroom experience as an attorney. Vernon has successfully secured multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts and has worked on high-profile, class-action cases .

Leander James is a longtime attorney with a nationwide practice. James has helped bring about institutional change for the protection of children and secured hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for injured parties in large multi-claimant cases.

James, Vernon & Weeks

1626 Lincoln Way, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814

(208) 667-0683; JVWlaw.net

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