‘Targeted me relentlessly,’ says Red Lobster employee now suing company just days after owner confirmed it’s up for sale

AN ex-Red Lobster employee is pursuing legal action mere days after the franchise owner confirmed he has put the business up for sale.

Nora Nunez was fired from her position as a bartender in 2022 after 11 years at the establishment.

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Nora Nunez filed a lawsuit against Red Lobster and various employees after being fired in 2022 following a reportedly hellish year in the restaurantCredit: Getty

She has filed a lawsuit for harassment, discrimination, and retaliatory termination, naming Red Lobster Hospitality, LLC, and 50 persons, which included her former general manager and director of operations in the filing, reports SFGate.

The lawsuit, filed through the Superior Court of California in San Francisco County, alleges Red Lobster did not properly investigate her complaints regarding her mistreatment at the hands of her general manager.

Michael Waller joined the team as a general manager in November of 2021, which according to Nunez, marks when her work life turned for the worse.

The lawsuit describes Waller as “rude, standoffish, and dismissive” toward the ex-employee and “targeted her relentlessly.”

According to Nunez, her maltreatment was due to her identity as a “butch lesbian” which caused Waller to dislike her.

In one instance, Waller allegedly forced another employee with Covid-19 to come into work, resulting in Nunez speaking out about this health risk.

Nunez claims that not only did Waller completely disregard her and o ther team members’ concerns, but some employees fell ill with Covid-19 following his decision.

Court documents show that the general manager is also being accused of favoritism, allowing one employee in a “no parking zone,” just because Waller “thought ‘she was sweet.’”

The parking issue grew in severity when Nunez tried to park in the same area and Miller reminded her of the company policy and made her move.

I made a Red Lobster-inspired surf ‘n turf dinner for $20 from Dollar Tree – there’s even sides and dessert

Nunez recalled Miller had “raised his voice and yelled at her in front of restaurant guests and other employees,” when she pushed back against his demands for her to move.

Ultimately, Nunez was sent home for the night for insubordination.

The worker reached out to her to her supervisor and Red Lobster’s director of operations, Geoff Rede, who allegedly said that the company would look into the complaint, but never did.

Then in June of 2022, Nunez reported that Miller accused her of underperforming and coming short on cash in her cash register.

He allegedly went on to call her a “bully” to other staff members but failed to elaborate on what that means.

“Doubling down on the continued harassment and retaliation, on or about June 30, 2022, Waller called Nunez and told her she was suspended without pay for bullying, which was another deliberate swing at her butch lesbian identification,” reads the lawsuit.

In response to her suspension, in July of 2022, Nunez filed for worker’s compensation citing “stress, anxiety, and psychological trauma.”

She was subsequently “discriminatorily and retaliatorily terminated” around July 15, 2022, reads the lawsuit.

Nunez’s attorney Chambord Benton-Hayes spoke out about the details of the case.

“All of us should expect a restaurant chain to value safety and fair treatment for its employees and the general public,” Benton-Hayes said of the case.

“In this case, not only did Red Lobster let prejudice ruin the career of a bartender who was beloved by customers, it also put the public at risk by ignoring her concerns about Covid-19 safety in the workplace.”

Nunez said that her filing this lawsuit is not just for her own sake but also for the whole community.

“What happened to me at Red Lobster showed me that prejudice still has a seat at the table, even at a national chain that pretends to be about warmth and hospitality,” Nunez said.

“I’m fighting back, not just for my own sake, but to challenge a system that allows discrimination to infect the workplace.”

IN THE RED AND CLOSING OUT

While unrelated to Nunez’s claim, Red Lobster’s top stakeholder has announced they are pulling out of the company and selling following a major profit loss.

Thai Union Group, which has been a shareholder in Red Lobster for almost eight years, announced its plans to “exit” the company in January.

“During the past years, the combination of [the] Covid-19 pandemic, sustained industry headwinds, higher interest rates, and rising material and labor costs have impacted Red Lobster business resulting in prolonged negative financial contributions to the company and its shareholders,” Thiraphong Chansiri, Thai Union Group’s CEO, said in a press release.

“In this regard, the company and Red Lobster initiated a review of Red Lobster to identify areas for operational and financial improvement.

“After detailed analysis, the board of directors has determined that Red Lobster’s ongoing financial requirements no longer align with our capital allocation priorities and therefore the company is pursuing an exit of the minority investment.”

Although there are a plethora of reasons why the company was not thriving, the nail in the coffin was their 2023 Ultimate Endless Shrimp promotion that saw operation losses of $11 million.

“We knew the price was cheap, but the idea was to bring more traffic in the restaurants,” CFO Ludovic Garnier told investors in an earnings call on February 19.

“So we wanted to boost our traffic, and it didn’t work.”

In total, the company saw profit losses of $22 million in 2023.


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