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A former bartender at Red Lobster in San Bernardino has sued the restaurant chain, claiming she was mistreated by her manager for being a lesbian and later fired for complaining of his failure to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, Feb. 20 in San Francisco County Superior Court on behalf of Nora Nunez, targets Red Lobster Hospitality LLC, General Manager Michael Waller and Geoff Reder, the company’s director of operations.

Nunez, 42, currently lives in San Francisco.

It alleges Red Lobster violated California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by failing to prevent discrimination based on gender identity/expression and sexual orientation. Additional allegations include harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and infliction of emotional distress.

“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,” said attorney Chambord Benton-Hayes, whose Oakland-based law firm filed the complaint.

Representatives with Red Lobster could not be reached for comment.

Nunez was employed by the seafood chain for 11 years, working at locations in Monrovia and Ontario before being transferred to the San Bernardino restaurant in April 2021.

She built up a host of loyal customers along the way, some of whom wrote letters to the company’s corporate offices praising her “outstanding customer service,” the lawsuit said.

But things changed when Waller was brought on as general manager of the San Bernardino location in November 2021.

“Defendant Waller treated Nunez differently due to her sexual orientation and gender expression,” the complaint said. “Waller was rude, standoffish and dismissive to Nunez, whereas he was friendly and gregarious with other employees and customers.”

The lawsuit alleges that, on or around December 2021, Waller denied a coworker’s request for time off when she was ill and had COVID-19 like symptoms.

He ordered her to continue to come to work because the restaurant was short-staffed — a decision that “exposed other employees and customers to the virus,” the action said.

When Nunez complained that Waller had comitted an OSHA violation, he ignored it and subsequently placed her on an unpaid suspension, the lawsuit states.

The complaint further alleges Waller allowed another employee to park in a no-parking zone in front of the restaurant but yelled at Nunez in front of coworkers, customers and Reder when she attempted to park there.

Waller sent her home for insubordination and Reder failed to intervene or comment on Waller’s “discriminatory, unprofessional and hostile behavior toward Nunez, the action claims.

Nunez filed a workers’ compensation claim in July 2022 for stress, anxiety and psychological trauma but was “discriminatorily and retaliatorily” fired four days later, the lawsuit said, adding that her employment records were later destroyed.

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

The lawsuit seek unspecified damages for past and future wage losses and economic losses incurred in filing the lawsuit, along with punitive damages and attorney fees.

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