Waitress fired hours after calling cops about manager’s assault in Florida, lawsuit says

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When a seafood restaurant did nothing to address a waitress’ complaints about a kitchen manager assaulting and harassing her, she called police — and was fired hours later in Florida, according to a federal lawsuit.

Prior to her firing, management repeatedly told the waitress to ignore the kitchen manager, whose “verbal abuse escalated to physical,” and that “nothing would be done to change the situation” at AJ’s Oyster Shanty in Fort Walton Beach, a complaint filed Aug. 30 states.

The complaint says that instead of firing the kitchen manager who physically assaulted and sexually harassed the waitress, the oyster bar restaurant “sided” with him and unlawfully retaliated against her.

Now the woman, 41, is suing AJ’s Oyster Shanty, LLC for job discrimination after filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal agency has granted her the right to sue.

McClatchy News contacted the restaurant for comment on Sept. 6 and was awaiting a response.

The woman worked as a server at AJ’s Oyster Shanty’s Fort Walton Beach location from Feb. 8, 2021, until April 30, 2021, and was first assigned to the night shift, according to the complaint. The kitchen manager also worked this shift.

During this shift, the kitchen manager is accused of treating female staff “horribly” and repeatedly calling them derogatory names, the complaint states. In regards to the woman, he would often “invade (her) personal space” and subject her to sexually demeaning “name calling.”

When the waitress reported his treatment to management, she was switched to the day shift, causing her pay to get reduced, according to the lawsuit.

The kitchen manager started coming into work during the afternoon, and the complaint says his treatment of the waitress became “worse.”

“On one occasion, (the waitress) was working with him, and he flipped a sharp steak knife at her chest,” the complaint states.

When the woman reported this incident to management, she was “told the camera angle and location of the incident was not available, and unfortunately nothing was caught on camera,” before the kitchen manager’s behavior became “more violent,” according to the complaint.

On another occasion, the woman’s complaint says her coworker shoved her into the kitchen’s soup well.

Anothermanager told her that this incident was not on camera, so “it did not happen,” the complaint states.

As a result, the woman called police to file a report about the assault, and AJ’s Oyster Shanty fired her four hours later, according to the lawsuit.

When police asked the restaurant to provide surveillance video of the assault, authorities were met with a refusal unless they served a warrant or subpoena, the complaint says.

The restaurant’s “failure to act or put an end to the physical assaults and continual sexual harassing and sexually derogatory and demeaning name calling of (the waitress) resulted in her having anxiety and stress and further (led) to her termination,” the complaint states.

The complaint argues there was no “legitimate” reason for the waitress to be fired.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Florida, seeks to have the woman reinstated as a waitress and award her pay for past wages she would have earned as well as lost benefits.

It also seeks compensatory damages, liquidated damages and attorney fees, and a trial by jury.

AJ’s Oyster Shanty has three other Florida locations in Okaloosa Island, Destin and Grayton Beach.

Fort Walton Beach is roughly 65 miles west of Panama City.

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