Restaurant owners speak out after employee accuses them of racially motivated firing

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Christine Turner's attorney says her client wasn't counseled by employers on use of inappropriate language in the workplace before she was fired from her job. 

Detroit — A couple that owns several restaurants in the city is speaking out after an employee who was fired last month claimed the move was racially motivated.

Green Dot Stables issued a statement Monday regarding the firing of Christine Turner after several employees were reportedly threatened online, over the phone and in person in the aftermath.

Christine and Jacques Driscoll rejected Turner's claims of racial discrimination, saying "the current narrative regarding what happened is simply not accurate."

The protests were sparked the week of May 24 after  Turner said she had been working at the restaurant for about a week as a server when she was fired for saying a term she said she uses to describe herself. 

Turner says she was reprimanded for using the term "light skin" when referring to herself and another coworker while working a shift. A white employee overheard the conversation, sparking an argument into what group of people has the right to use the term, Turner said. 

Christine Tuner sharing her experience with a customer attempting to enter the parking lot of Green Dot Stables.

Turner was fired the next day and dozens protested outside the restaurant through the weekend; at the time the restaurant declined to comment.

Turner continues to protest daily, according to a post on her Facebook page. 

According to Turner, she was fired without a conversation from her manager regarding whether her language violated any restaurant policies. 

"I'm just really confused as to why they terminated me instead of just talking to me," Turner said during a protest on May 25. 

The restaurant owners say Turner violated the harassment policies of the restaurant "multiple" times.

"Recently, disciplinary action was taken against an employee for multiple instances of violating our written policy against harassment," the statement said. "During this employee's seven shifts of employment, this individual engaged in a string of unprofessional conduct towards multiple employees of different races/national origins and sexual orientation. Despite counseling, the behavior did not change."

The restaurant did reach out to Turner after her firing asking for a conversation, but at the time she declined and said she was waiting until she could have a lawyer accompany her to the meeting. 

"This individual initially asked for communications to be made directly to an attorney, which we chose to respect," the owners said in a statement. "Unfortunately, during our silence, there have been multiple instances of harassment and threatening comments directed to other members of our staff."

Shanta Driver, Turner's attorney, said her client wasn't counseled about her language at work and also claimed there's a history of racial inequality and discrimination within the management at Green Dot. They hope her case will bring more attention to what they refer to as "the root of the problem."

"They really need to try to figure out how to resolve this issue rather than attempting to deflect what the issues are by making unfair, untrue allegations," said Driver.

The owners responded by saying, "Green Dot Stables counseled the employee (Ms. Turner) on the use of inappropriate language in the workplace."

"As we have emphasized in the past (and will continue to do so in diversity, equity and inclusion training) any biases, stereotyping, or actions that create an intimidating, offensive or hostile experience for our employees or customers will not be tolerated," the owners said via an attorney. 

Turner's attorney did not indicate whether a lawsuit would be filed against the restaurant and its owners. 

The restaurant, located at 2200 W. Lafayette, serves sliders, fries, soups and salads. Management group Inlaws Hospitality also owns Johnny Noodle King and Yellow Light Coffee and Donuts in Detroit as well as a Green Dot Stables location in Lansing.