A gay South Dakota teen is speaking out after allegedly being forced to wear a homophobic name tag at his job at a fast-food Mexican restaurant.
Tyler Brandt, 16, says his manager at Taco John's in Yankton was agitated with him and verbally abusive from the time he first started working there, according to local news station KELO. The situation came to a head on Monday, June 23, when he said the manager gave him a name tag that read "Gaytard."
"I put it on because I didn't want to upset him and I felt that if I did do anything to upset him, it would cause me to lose my job because he'd be looking for ways to fire me," Brandt told the station. He said he tried to remove the tag during the day but that the manager forced him to wear it in front of customers for his shift.
A manager at the restaurant has denied the allegation.
On Tuesday, Brandt went into the establishment with his boyfriend and quit. He handed in his uniform, but kept the name tag for evidence, according to the Yankton Press & Dakotan.
Yankton Taco John manager John Scott, however, has a different story. He told the Press & Dakotan that Brandt chose to wear the offensive name tag.
“From what I understand, they were all joking around," Scott said. "Everyone has a nickname here, and he wanted a nickname. [Gaytard is] what he picked for a nickname. He wasn’t forced to wear the name tag. He asked the manager to make that name tag for him. He handed it to him. He didn’t tell him he had to wear it. He put it on himself and created the situation. He said the manager forced him to do it. The manager didn’t force him to do anything.”
The Yankton Taco John's Facebook page has been flooded with one-star reviews following the news. Multiple users blasted the restaurant with comments relating to the alleged discrimination.
Brant and his father are considering suing the restaurant, according to the Associated Press.
A spokeswoman for the company told The Huffington Post: "We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. We take any accusation of workplace harassment very seriously. The type of discrimination that reportedly took place recently in the Yankton, South Dakota, restaurant is deplorable."
The company requires independently owned restaurants to comply with the laws on equal employment and discrimination matters. Since this is an independently owned business, it is an employee matter, the spokeswoman added. Taco John's has notified the business owner and he is investigating the incident. No further steps will be taken until the results of this investigation are revealed.
Earlier this month, Taco John's partnered with STOMP Out Bullying, a bullying-prevention group, in an effort to spread awareness about and put an end to the problem.
UPDATE: 6:37 p.m. -- STOMP Out Bullying contacted HuffPost with a statement about the incident involving Taco John's. Founder and CEO Ross Ellis said:
We at STOMP Out Bullying find the alleged incident reprehensible. Forcing an employee to wear a name tag that identifies him or her by race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender – and to exacerbate the matter by using derogatory terminology – is outright bullying and hatred. In fact, any and all types of bullying, including bullying through discrimination, are deplorable, have absolutely no place in a civilized society, and are totally antithetical to our very mission and everything in which we believe. Because of this, we are currently discussing all options to ensure that the proper actions are taken by Taco John's to put an immediate end to this appalling behavior and guarantee that this does not happen again.