‘Stop Acting Like a Coon’: A Black Chef Was Allegedly Called Racist Slurs and Fired from an Atlanta Restaurant After Complaining About It. Now, the Business Has to Pay Him $115K

Jerrell McGirt had been working for Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant for less than a year when he began complaining to management about a hostile work environment where Black, Hispanic and female employees were being mistreated by the company’s training staff.

But the Georgia Black man ended up getting fired a month later in an apparent act of retaliation after he was told by a sous chef to “tone it down” and to “stop being a coon.” 

Now, the restaurant chain has been ordered to pay McGirt $115,000 in a settlement finalized on June 17.

Atlanta Business Shuttered, Ordered to Pay $115,000 to Black Chef Who Was Called 'a Coon’ and Fired for Complaining About Racism
Iron Hill Brewery in Atlanta, Georgia closed shortly after a Black chef filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the business. (Photo: Instagram/Iron Hill Brewery)

It was the latest setback for the Delaware-based restaurant chain that opened its first restaurant in Georgia in December 2020 with much fanfare and anticipation — only to shut it down in May 2024, just over a month after McGirt filed his lawsuit in federal court.

The restaurant chain, which has locations in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, and one remaining location in Georgia, blamed the closure on “post-pandemic challenges” as well as a decline in foot traffic, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

However, a review of Yelp reviews of the shuttered location posted during its four-year existence reveals an establishment that did not prioritize customer service, earning a less-than-stellar rating of 3.4 out of 177 reviews.

The lawsuit describes a work environment in which a non-Black bartender complained about “too many Black servers” working at the establishment and not enough “pretty white faces in the bar.”

But that bartender was never fired after employees complained to human resources, according to the lawsuit that was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Commission on behalf of McGirt, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

The Complaints

McGirt began working as a line cook for the company in November 2020, about a month before it opened its first location in Georgia in the Buckhead district of Atlanta, and was promoted to sous chef-in-training within a few months, according to the lawsuit.

But he was bothered by how the training team was treating minority employees, including Blacks, Hispanics and women, so he reached out to regional management to complain about the mistreatment on June 3, 2021.

When that complaint went nowhere, he made the same complaint to the local management team five days later, on June 8, including the general manager, the interim executive chef, and his acting supervisor.

But the mistreatment continued, so he complained twice more to regional management on June 12 and June 28, but his complaints kept falling on deaf ears, his suit stated.

The retaliation began on July 2, 2021 after he was sent home from his shift after asking his acting supervisor to “treat him like a human being.” He was also told not to return until they had a chance to review his “previous write-ups,” according to the lawsuit.

But he had no previous write-ups to review.

The lawsuit states that after he was sent home on July 2, he emailed management to inform them that many current and former employees have “concerns of verbal abuse, verbal assault, discrimination and mistreatment because of gender; and discrimination and mistreatment because [of] both race and citizenship”

On July 5, 2021, Iron Hill management responded to his email by asking him to provide additional information about the allegations of discrimination in the work place, which he did.

However, management responded the following day by issuing McGirt a “final written warning” – which also happened to be his first written warning – accusing him of acting “aggressively” when he asked his supervisor to treat him like a human being.

On June 11, 2021, the restaurant’s sous chef told McGirt to “tone it down” and to “stop being a coon,” but that did not deter McGirt, who sent the sous chef a text message stating the following:

“I’m not going to do anything fireable, and I won’t be intimidated to quit…I’m no coon no thug to be taken advantage of.”

He was fired that same day.

The Lawsuit

True to his word, McGrit refused to be intimidated and contacted the EEOC to file a complaint about the discriminatory work environment at Iron Hill. 

The federal agency began investigating the issue and eventually determined there was “reasonable cause to believe that Title VII was violated,” which is the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

The EEOC reached out to Iron Hill in September 2023 attempting to resolve the issue without having to file a lawsuit, but that apparently went nowhere because the federal agency sent a “Notice of Failure of Conciliation” in November 2023, which is the final step before filing a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed on March 25, 2024, resulting in the $115,000 settlement and a consent decree that requires Iron Hill to instill an anti-retaliation policy as well as provide annual mandatory national training on how not to violate federal law with discriminatory and retaliatory practices. The consent decree also requires Iron Hill to provide McGirt with a reference letter stating he “performed well in his position” and “was a good employee.”

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