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Kansas Buffalo Wild Wings managers said it’s OK to refuse black customers: lawsuit

Update: A story highlighting the company’s response and reviewing similar cases elsewhere is posted here.

Managers at an Overland Park Buffalo Wild Wings regularly made derogatory comments about African American customers and allowed employees to refuse them service or give them poor service, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Gerald Gray, said white employees refused to serve black customers because, they said, “blacks don’t give good tips.”

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas by a former employee of the Buffalo Wild Wings at 105th Street and Metcalf Avenue, who is suing the company for fostering a “racially hostile work environment,” and for racial discrimination, age discrimination, discrimination based on a disability and retaliation. It names as defendants Buffalo Wild Wings and the parent company Inspire Brands.

The employee, Gary Lovelace, says he was fired after reporting his concerns about discrimination and workplace safety. Lovelace, a 55-year-old black man, worked as a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings for 12 years before he was fired.

A Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson told The Star Thursday that the company is conducting an internal investigation of the allegations but will not comment on pending litigation.

“Buffalo Wild Wings values an inclusive environment and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” the spokesperson said.

Management at the Overland Park location did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment.

According to the lawsuit, much of Lovelace’s troubles began after the hiring of a new general manager in late 2016 or early 2017.

In addition to witnessing management’s derogatory comments about African American customers, Lovelace said, he was consistently subjected to racial comments that were dismissed as jokes despite his complaints.

In one instance, an assistant general manager introduced Lovelace to another employee as the “angry black man.” Lovelace does not believe the manager was disciplined after he reported the incident, according to the suit.

The lawsuit also said Lovelace was targeted because of his age and disability.

His general manager was angered when he requested breaks from working in the freezer when it triggered his asthma, the lawsuit says, and the manager complained that Lovelace was old when it took him a long time to finish a task.

Lovelace was unable to get pay raises or promotions despite his efforts, and his general manager consistently complained that he was overpaid, the lawsuit said.

He was consistently asked to take out the trash and clean floors, even though it wasn’t part of his job description and management “tried to force Mr. Lovelace to work less favorable shifts” despite his seniority, according to the lawsuit.

This occurred despite Lovelace reporting to management that the younger workers incorrectly rotated products, creating health risks, Lovelace said.

In 2017 Lovelace was regularly disciplined for arriving late to work because of his role as a caretaker for a sick family member, the suit says. He was told that, rather than informing managers ahead of time, he should call in sick and not come in when he had to be late to work.

According to the suit, younger, non-African American employees did not receive similar treatment.

“Mr. Lovelace became fearful and was often stressed due to the tension he faced on the job during his shifts over the last year of his employment,” the suit said.

Lovelace reported his concerns of discrimination to management multiple times but was ultimately fired in October of 2017 for arriving late to work.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.
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