Former head chef says Philly restaurant owners denied promotion based on race

By Jim Boyle | Dec 15, 2014

The former head chef of a Philadelphia restaurant says that she had been wrongfully

terminated after complaining about the owners' selectively applied staff rules based on race and racially insensitive remarks, according to a suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Morgan Malachi, of Philadelphia, seeks damage sin excess of $150,000 from Lamar Square, Inc., the controlling company of the Old Eagle Tavern located on Markle St,. in Philadelphia. Malachi, an African American female,  says that the Caucasian owners Erin and Scott Wallace also promised a promotion to take over the kitchen of a new restaurant, but rescinded the offer and awarded it to a less experienced, but white, chef.

According to the complaint, Malachi began working as one of 15 employees at the Old Eagle Tavern in September 2012. The owners said if she succeeded as head chef, they would give her the same position at a new restaurant opening at Lafayette Hill in mid-2013.

The plaintiff says she met and exceeded the expectations of the job, but an incident in January 2013 hindered her chances. According to the complaint, Malachi and two other African American employees were preparing to leave at the end of their shift, when owner Scott Wallace approached them and commented that the three "really blend in to the walls." The walls of the restaurant were a dark brown color, and the plaintiff took the statement as a racial insult based on their skin color.

According to the claim, the bar manager who witnessed the exchange reported the incident to the other owner, Erin Wallace, forcing Scott to apologize to Morgan and her two co-workers. The incident came up again in April, when Erin accused one of the kitchen staff of allowing non-employees into the kitchen area. The employee objected to the allegedly false accusation and expressed that he did not appreciate the earlier comments made by Scott.

Wallace terminated the employee from his position and told the plaintiff that if she had a problem with the decision and with what Scott said, she should go her separate way. Malachi denied having a problem, reportedly out of fear of retaliation by Wallace, the claim says.

In May 2013, Malachi learned that the head chef position at the new Lafayette Hill restaurant had been awarded to a less experienced, Caucasian chef. The plaintiff says that her work at the Old Eagle Tavern increased the restaurant's profits and resulted in more positive reviews on social sharing sites such as Malachi believes she was denied the new spot as retaliation for questioning the termination of her co-worker.

The claim says that the work environment only got worse from then. Later in May, the restaurant manager began aggressively criticizing Malachi and the rest of the kitchen staff, consisting of one African American male and one Hispanic male. The predominantly Caucasian wait staff did not receive similar treatment, the complaint says.

According to court documents, the treatment culminated with the manager forbidding the kitchen staff from enjoying the restaurant's "one free drink" rule, which allowed employees to take home one free drink at the end of their shift. The Caucasian employees were not subject to the restriction, the complaint says, and Malachi contacted the owners to complain of the situation.

The following day, Malachi was called into a meeting with the owners, who falsely accused her of going over the food budget. The claim says that she remained consistently under budget and even turned a profit. The owners also handed Malachi a list of more restrictive rule changes, to which the plaintiff responded that employees of color were being unfairly targeted. The Wallaces took back the list, said they had enough of Malachi's complaints and terminated her employment on the spot.

Malachi says the termination violated her civil rights and was in retaliation to her legally protected inquiries into the pretext of the owners' rule changes and policies. According to the complaint, the malicious actions created a hostile work environment that made it extremely difficult for the plaintiff to perform her work duties.

Malachi is represented by Philadelphia attorney Edith Pearce.

The federal case ID is 2:14-cv-07047-SD.


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