A lawsuit presents only one side of a legal argument.
BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A chef is suing a Louisiana State University sorority over alleged discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, chef Bernardine Williams sued the Delta Zeta Sorority, her previous employer, College Fresh Inc., and her manager Suzette Says. Williams worked for College Fresh Inc. at the Sigma chapter house of Delta Zeta Sorority.
In August 2020, Williams began working as the house chef for College Fresh at LSU’s Delta Zeta house. She replaced a white chef at the Delta Zeta Sigma chapter house.
In October 2021, Williams’ previous manager was replaced by Suzette Says, who was the food coordinator for the sorority house. According to the suit, Says allegedly questioned Williams’ qualifications during a meeting between the two and said she disapproved of certain foods Williams cooked. Williams responded by saying those were her previous manager’s recipes. Says reportedly replied by saying, “Debbie is no longer here and I am in charge.”
After that meeting, Says allegedly would not meet with or speak to Williams and would have someone else deliver instructions to her. The lawsuit claims Says refused to call Williams by her name.
Later in the year, by November 2021, Delta Zeta held a chapter night with more than 100 members in attendance. According to the lawsuit, at the event, Says said, “I would prefer if we had a white chef” in front of Williams and several sorority members. After the event, Williams reported Says to the president of Delta Zeta, Michelle Sorrells.
Says was notified of the report and allegedly increased Williams’ workload. According to her lawsuit, Williams reported the issue to College Fresh Inc. College Fresh informed Williams they could not help. She alleges that Says’ behavior created a hostile work environment.
Williams later received notice from College Fresh that she would no longer be at the Sigma chapter house of Delta Zeta as a house chef, and was being demoted to round chef. That constituted a reduction in hours and pay.
By January 2022, College Fresh replied to one of three of Williams’ reports by saying:
“In accordance with our investigation’s procedures, we have interviewed all employees involved and our investigation is now complete. Although privacy considerations limit our ability to share confidential information with you about other employees and clients, I can tell you that the appropriate action has been taken to ensure that such conduct does not repeat itself.”
According to the suit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave Williams a right-to-sue letter after she contacted the defendants.
Williams is seeking lost pay and punitive damages.
A telephone scheduling conference is set for 2:30 p.m. July 20 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott D. Johnson.
Scott Huffstetler, the attorney representing the Delta Zeta Sorority, Delta Zeta Sorority National Housing Corporation, the Sigma Chapter of Delta Zeta House Corporation, and Suzette Say, released a statement to BRProud about the lawsuit.
Delta Zeta and its affiliated organizations and persons deny the discrimination claims made by Ms. Williams in her suit. The Organization and its affiliates intend to defend against Ms. Williams’ claims in the normal course of litigation and believe that once this matter is fully tried, whether through motions or at trial, the facts will show that Ms. Williams’ claims are unfounded. The Organization and its affiliates would never discriminate against anyone based on any protected characteristics, including race or color. This is demonstrated by the Organization’s anti-discrimination and diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies.Scott Huffstetler, attorney