Former Horseheads Red Lobster GM speaks out amid race, sex discrimination lawsuit

Chemung County

HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM) – Miquelle Fountain says she was subjected to years of “discriminatory conduct through racist and sexist harassment” while employed at Red Lobster. Now, she’s speaking out exclusively with 18 News about the conduct she endured working for the restaurant chain, including at their Horseheads location.

Fountain says during her tenure she “experienced sexist and racist conduct that was unfortunately not isolated incidents, and it was a consistent culture that had not properly been addressed.”

According to a complaint filed in the Western District of New York, Fountain claimed customers referred to her as “colored” and refused to speak with her due to her race.

Several complaints were made by Fountain to other managers in the company, which she says were ignored.

“She reported discriminatory conduct on more than one occasion to her supervisors,” said Fountain’s attorney Aubrey D. Hetznecker, Esq., of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, LLP. “What I think the evidence will reveal is there was a pervasive nature of discriminatory conduct that (Fountain) reported and also experienced on a very consistent basis.”

“It’s all painful,” said Fountain, “and the employer has a responsibility and an obligation to protect you from discriminatory practices, and Red Lobster failed to do so.”

Fountain worked for Red Lobster for 13 years at locations in Florida, Michigan, and New York, including most recently as the General Manager of the Horseheads location from 2017-20. Fountain says the location was nearly closed by the region’s Vice President of Operations due to financial issues and was ranked among the worst-performing locations prior to her arrival.

On Jan. 4, 2020, Red Lobster received an anonymous email from employees that Fountain claims was part of a “discriminatory campaign to harass and terminate” her following a “sham investigation.”

Fountain says she was not allowed to view the email or other alleged evidence against her and was told to stay away from the restaurant for several days leading up to her termination.

Fountain outlined several other instances of alleged sex and race discrimination while working at various locations across the country.

In 2014 while working in Michigan, Fountain claims that her manager, a white male, requested her termination because she was black. The next year, the same manager allegedly said “no wonder you all have big butts, you put meat in your vegetables” and “don’t you ever come in this restaurant again with braids-this isn’t Africa.”

While working at the Chemung County location, Fountain says she contacted a former general manager in Michigan who said “I am sick of hearing about you. I will never care for your people thew ay you did.”

Fountain was transferred to a Buffalo location in 2016 where she was promoted to manager and claims the discrimination continued, including white servers refusing to serve black customers, numerous employees and customers calling Fountain “colored,” and customers refusing to speak with Fountain.

The complaint says Fountain was the first black general manager in the Elmira location’s history and that 98 percent of their 86 employees were white. While located in Horseheads, the company and complaint list the location as being in Elmira.

The lawsuit includes 11 counts of violation of state and federal laws for which Fountain is seeking $5 million for each count in addition to punitive damages.

“The message here is to stand up for your rights under the law,” said Fountain. “We can hold racist people and organizations accountable for discriminatory practices.”

Last week 18 News has reached out to Red Lobster for comment on the lawsuit but have not heard back at this time.

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