A fast food worker in Yankton, South Dakota alleges that he was harassed and discriminated against when his manager forced him to wear a name tag with a homophobic slur. Earlier this week, KELO Keloland Television reported that Tyler Brandt, a 16-year-old Taco John’s employee, quit his job after a manager pressured him into wearing a name tag with a demeaning label. “[The manager] pulled me into the office and gave me a name tag that read ‘Gaytard’ on it and asked me to wear it,” Brandt explained. “So I put it on because I didn’t want to upset him and I felt that if I did do anything to upset him that it would cause me to possibly lose my job because he would be looking for ways to fire me.” Brandt’s co-worker Kayla Martian told KDLT News that the manager made his feelings about Brandt known saying, "I remember one time he said, 'Tyler is so weird because he's so gay, it's not even funny.'" KDLT reports that Brandt learned early on that the management at that Taco John’s franchise had a “reputation for picking on employees,” though he didn’t think it would have gone as far as it did.
Brandt complied and wore the name tag, but for the rest of the night shift he tried to hide the embarrassing label from customers. Even when he was successful in hiding the name tag from view, the fast food worker said that the manager, “…would still call me by the name across the store and customers would notice." The manager’s treatment that night was the final straw and after discussing it with his boyfriend and friends, Brandt decided to quit on Tuesday morning. His resignation inspired Martian, who said she also experienced harassment on the job, to quit as well, telling KCAU 9 News, “It was getting way out of hand.”
The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reports that manager John Scott has received several death threats. He denies Brandt’s claims and said that he was not there the night in question but is conducting an internal investigation. Scott says that a manager, Brandt and another employee were present. “From what I understand, they were all joking around,” Scott told the paper. “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.” Brandt rejected that concept and said, “It’s really irritating to think someone could believe I would want that label.”
Taco John’s CEO Jeff Linville released a statement on the restaurant’s website reading:
"At Taco John’s, we believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. We take any accusation of workplace harassment very seriously. If this occurred, it is deplorable. We require our independently owned and operated franchisees to operate their restaurants in compliance with the law, including equal employment and anti-discrimination laws.
As you can understand, because this is an employee relations matter, the independent owner of this franchise business has been made aware of and is investigating the incident."
Tyler Brandt has received a flood of support since his story broke earlier this week and has consulted with an attorney. The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a complaint regarding the allegations. Brandt has been advised not to discuss details of his plans, but KELO reports that he is responding to his critics saying, “...he is not out to make money or hurt anyone else. He just wants discrimination like this to go away.”