South Dakota

Teen files EEOC complaint against Taco Johns for alleged anti-gay harassment

Tyler Brandt

Tyler Brandt ACLU

Tyler BrandtACLU

Tyler Brandt

An openly gay South Dakota teen has filed a federal discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging he was harassed and humiliated while working for Taco Johns, including being forced to wear a name badge containing a homophobic slur.

Tyler Brandt, 16, of Yankton, S.D., says the harassment by a night manager began shortly after being hired, and that after he complained, Taco Johns International refused to investigate the matter because franchise locations are independently owned and operated.

Tyler recounts the incident in a blog post for the ACLU, which is assisting him in this complaint against Taco Johns:

I hadn’t been working at Taco John’s long before the night manager was saying things about me to other employees behind my back, calling me “faggot” and saying things like, “Tyler is so gay it’s not even funny.”

About three weeks after I’d started working there, the night manager called me into the office and handed me a name tag he’d just made. He said, “Wear this!” with a huge grin on his face like he was really proud of himself. I looked at the name tag and saw that it read “Gaytard” with little hearts on either side of the word. My mom raised me to be respectful and polite, and I didn’t want to lose my job. So I put the name tag on and then said, “Okay, can I take it off now?” He just laughed at me and told me to leave it on.

He made me wear that embarrassing name tag all night.

Every time I had to help a customer, I tried to stand so that it was hidden by the register. But that didn’t really make much difference because the manager kept calling me “gaytard” really loudly in front of customers for the rest of my shift: “Hey, gaytard, help this customer!” and “Take out the trash, gaytard!” It was extremely humiliating.

Tyler said he wore the tag because he feared he would be fired if he refused.

In June, when we first reported Tyler’s allegation, restaurant manager John Scott said Tyler chose the slur himself as a nickname, and was not forced to wear the name tag.

“He asked the manager to make that name tag for him,” Scott said. “He (the manager) didn’t tell him he had to wear it. (Tyler) put it on himself and created the situation.”

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Tyler scoffed at the idea that he asked for the nickname and chose to wear the tag.

“It wasn’t my idea, and I never thought it was funny. It’s a mean, ugly word that makes fun of both gay people and people with developmental disabilities, and I would never call myself a name like that,” Tyler says.

“It was wrong for the manager to humiliate me like that, and it was wrong for Taco John’s International to refuse to do anything about what happened at a restaurant with their name.” he adds.

Taco John’s, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has more than 400 franchises in 25 states.

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