• Bailey Flowers

Tallahassee Whataburger managers accused of improper hiring practices


In April of 2016, Vanessa Burrous, a former employee at Whataburger in Tallahassee, Fla., filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint stated that Whataburger violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids bias based on race, color, religion, and sex in regards to employment, according to history.com.

According to USA Today, “The former manager alleged she was retaliated against and forced to resign because she would not carry out racially discriminatory hiring practices.” The accused managers have denied being biased in their hiring processes.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, Johanna Risk, the general manager at that time, is alleged to have pressured Burros into hiring only white applicants, not applicants of color. Burrous said “Risk was directing my interview applicants who had white sounding names," according to USA Today. Burrous ignored what her managers said and continued to hire the applicants based on skill and education, not based on her manager’s instructions. She ended up hiring eight people during the time she worked there, and seven of the eight were African American, causing Risk to become "infuriated."

Risk claims that she was being pressured by Tallahassee Whataburger area manager, Misa Levin, who had expressed that she wanted her employees to look like her customers, who are mostly white. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Levin, herself, was pressured into this policy by “upper management” within the company. Levin warned Burros that “if she complained further she would not be protecting the brand.”

Risk had increased Burrous’ work hours, gave her no vacation time, and also criticized Burros for other managers’ errors. Risk also ordered Burrous to work days she already had off with no pay and changed her to night shift without even letting her know. According to USA Today, Burrous stated that she had “suffered endless gossip, threats and abuse, both verbal and emotional, making the work environment intolerable for a reasonable person.” She also stated that she could no longer tolerate the outcome, and later quit and filed her complaint to the Commission, according to WTXL.

The Commission said that Whataburger is prohibited from being biased against race in hiring. It also said that Whataburger must pay Burrous back pay, as well as interest on the back pay and punitive damages for Risk’s “malicious and reckless conduct.”

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