Allegations spread quickly on social media this week that an employee of a Yankton fast-food restaurant was harassed for his sexual orientation. Meanwhile, the manager of the facility is asking that people refrain from making quick judgments in the case.
Tyler Brandt, 16, resigned from working at the Yankton Taco John’s Tuesday morning, claiming a manager made him wear a name tag Monday night that said “gaytard.”
“He was laughing and told me to put it on,” Brandt told the Press & Dakotan Wednesday. “Being an employee and not wanting to upset my manager, I put it on. I felt like I was at risk of getting terminated. He was already upset with me because I was having a hard time learning things and wasn’t used to the job. After putting it on, I asked him if it would be all right to take it off. He said I should wear it. I didn’t want to upset him, so I wore it the rest of the night.”
When customers came in, Brandt said he did his best to obscure the name tag by standing behind the cash register.
“Even when customers did come in, he would call me ‘gaytard’ from across the store,” he stated. “I had gotten pretty upset by the end of the night. It was about 11:30 or 11:45 p.m., and I asked him what time we would be going. He blew up at me and told me to ‘Get the f*** out’ of Taco John’s.”
The next day, Brandt, who is openly gay, said he was accompanied by his boyfriend to Taco John’s and proceeded to resign.
“We gave (the manager) my uniform but kept the name tag as evidence,” he said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Brandt’s friend, Tara O’Gorman, posted on the Facebook page of Taco John’s corporate headquarters that she would never go back to the Yankton restaurant because of what Brandt told her had occurred. She did not actually witness the incident, she told the Press & Dakotan. However, she was enraged by what her friend said he had endured.
The post describing the situation soon began being re-posted by other Facebook members. On Wednesday evening, original post had 380 likes and 112 comments.
When reached by the Press & Dakotan Wednesday, Yankton Taco John’s manager John Scott said he had received two death threats related to the accusations.
He said he was not present Monday night when the alleged events occurred and was conducting an investigation into the matter.
“At Taco John’s, we have a policy that we don’t discriminate against anyone,” Scott said. “This blew out of proportion before we even got a chance to investigate. We didn’t even get to defend ourselves. Everyone thinks we’re guilty. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Not everything is true.”
He said a manager and two employees - including Brandt -- were involved.
“We never forced him to wear the name tag,” Scott stated. “He wore it himself. I have an employee who wrote me a statement and is signing it saying so.
“From what I understand, they were all joking around. 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. He handed it to him. He didn’t tell him he had to wear it. He put it on himself and created the situation. He said the manager forced him to do it. The manager didn’t force him to do anything.”
Scott said Brandt became upset when he was told to go home early Monday for “not doing his job” and resigned early the next morning.
Brandt scoffed at the idea that he asked for the nickname and chose to wear the name tag.
“Do you really think I’d want to go around making a mockery of who I am?” he asked. “It’s really irritating to think someone could believe I would want that label.”
Patricia Hays, general counsel for Taco John’s International, Inc., told the Press & Dakotan that she is familiar with the accusations that were made on Facebook.
“Taco John’s is a franchised business,” she said. “The alleged incident has taken place at a franchise location, which is independently owned and operated. This is an employee matter, and as a franchisor, we are not the employer. We can’t investigate the employee matter. We’ve contacted the independent owner and made him aware of what is alleged to have happened and requested that he do an investigation and handle it.”
Michael Scott, John’s father, is the owner of the Yankton Taco John’s.
Hays said that Taco John’s International does not request the results of such an employee investigation.
“We certainly do not have a policy of discrimination at Taco John’s International,” she added. “We require our franchisees to follow the laws. Therefore, they have to have policies that say they don’t discriminate.”
Both John Scott and Brandt said legal avenues could be explored in regards to the case.
Brandt said he is currently looking for a new job.
Despite being bullied from a young age for his sexuality and other things, he said he has chosen to come to terms with who he is as a person.
“If you can’t come to terms with who you are now, it’s (eventually) going to be all right,” he said to those who may be having difficulties with their sexual identity. “It took me a long time to understand what was going on with myself. Once I realized that I wasn’t a heterosexual, it took me time to come to terms with it. After you learn to respect and love yourself, you learn that if people really care about you, they will love you no matter what your sexuality.”