‘This is America!’: Lawsuit claims Pizza Hut bias against NJ workers, customers
Former Pizza Hut employees in New Jersey claim in a federal lawsuit that a company official from Texas who referred to herself as "Bitch Karen" discriminated against workers and customers who were Muslim, Indian, Egyptian and Hispanic.
The complaint was filed last month in federal district court of New Jersey by former Pizza Hut of Edison manager Joseph Hafez, former Pizza Hut of South Plainfield manager Ahmed Ahmed, and former Pizza Hut of South Plainfield employee Ahmed Elsafti.
The three claim that area manager Karen Ryan began treating people with hostility as soon as she was hired in January 2015. In less than a year, all three lost their jobs at the company even though Ahmed and Hafez had previously received honors for running two of the company's top-10 performing restaurants in the country.
The lawsuit says Ryan referred to them as "brothers," insinuating that they were part of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood because all three are Egyptian and Muslim.
They claim Karen berated them to "learn proper English" and repeatedly reminded them that she "was born in this country and we do things differently than you people.”
In April 2015, they claim Ryan ordered Hafez to try the new hot-dog stuffed crust pizza. When he told her that he didn’t eat pork because of his religion, she said: “That’s a stupid religion.”
At the South Plainfield restaurant, which catered to a largely Pakistani and Indian clientele, Ahmed kept meat and vegetarian buffet items on separate tables.
Ryan, however, demanded that meat and vegetable dishes be co-mingled. When Ahmed tried to explain their customers' dietary restrictions, she replied: “I don’t care about your religion, this is America. We do things my way!”
Ryan also is accused of attacking the restaurants' Hispanic employees. She mocked one worker because his first name was "Segundo."
"What kind of name is that? We name people John, Jason! This is America!” she is quoted as saying. “This is Pizza Hut in America, not in Mexico.”
Pizza Hut did not return a request for comment. An employee who answered the phone at the South Plainfield restaurant this week claimed that Ryan no longer worked in the New Jersey market. She could not be reached for comment.
Ryan and the company also are accused of discriminating against Ahmed on the basis of his disability, which he suffered while working at the restaurant.
Ryan allegedly ordered the 63-year-old to clear away a junk pile on the restaurant’s property even though he had informed her that it would require heavy machinery. As a result of trying to clear away the junk, Ahmed suffered a double hernia that required emergency surgery and three months of rehabilitation.
When he returned to work, Ryan ordered him to move heavy dough pans even though he told her that he was not allowed to do any heavy lifting. Ryan refused to assign the task to another worker.
“Ryan watched, laughing while he struggled to complete the malevolent task,” the lawsuit says.
Hafez and Ahmed were fired while Elsafti claims he was forced to quit because Ryan mad him feel “extremely degraded, victimized and emotionally distressed.”
The lawsuit claims that when the workers complained about her treatment of them, she reportedly replied that "the Bitch Karen is coming and not going anywhere."
The three are represented by Zack Holzberg of Derek Smith Law Group in Manhattan.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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