Iron Hill Brewery must pay $115K to Black chef fired from Buckhead location

Settlement ends EEOC lawsuit, comes after restaurant closes
The bar and taproom at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead.
Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

The bar and taproom at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Buckhead. Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Iron Hill Brewery has been ordered to pay $115,000 to a Black chef fired from its Buckhead location after reporting widespread race and sex discrimination, ending a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement comes after the Delaware-based chain closed the Peachtree Road location in early May, citing a decline in foot traffic and “post-pandemic challenges.”

The EEOC’s case, filed in the federal trial court in Atlanta in late March, alleged the business violated the Civil Rights Act in its treatment of the chef, who worked at the Buckhead location from November 2020 to July 2021. Iron Hill fired the chef after he complained to management about the mistreatment of Black, Hispanic and female staff members, the EEOC claimed.

Iron Hill and its attorney did not immediately respond to questions about the settlement, approved by a judge on Monday. The business also declined to comment on the case in April when it confirmed the Buckhead location’s closure.

In addition to paying the chef, Iron Hill must clear his employment record and provide him with a job reference that states he was a good employee who performed well.

“We wish (the chef) the best in his future endeavors,” the reference states.

Iron Hill has also agreed to implement an anti-retaliation policy, train staff on the new policy and display a notice about the settlement and workers’ rights at its other Georgia location in Dunwoody and seven locations in Pennsylvania. For the next three years, it must also report to the EEOC any staff complaints about discrimination and explain how it handled them.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, the chef was sent home after asking to be treated “like a human being,” and was also called a racial slur by a senior chef. The use of racial slurs was commonplace in Iron Hill’s Buckhead kitchen and workplace, the federal agency alleged.

“At least one non-African American bartender made racial remarks against African American employees and customers, to include that ‘there were too many Black servers’ and that he ‘wanted pretty white faces in the bar,’” the complaint states.

The fired chef first reported the discrimination in early June of 2021, the EEOC claimed. His concerns included that Hispanic employees were improperly removed from the work schedule and that a server, a breastfeeding new mother, was forced to pump breast milk in a public restroom because managers refused to leave the restaurant’s private office.

The chef was told by the brewery’s acting general manager that he was due to be fired for speaking up, according to the lawsuit. The EEOC said the chef’s supervisor began to disrespect him after he complained.

In early July 2021, the chef received a final written warning, though no prior warnings had been issued, the EEOC claimed.

When told by a senior employee on July 11, 2021 to “tone it down,” the chef responded in a text message, “I’m not going to do anything fireable and I won’t be intimidated to quit.” The chef was fired that day.

The bartender whose racist remarks had prompted complaints was not fired, the EEOC said.

The agency reached out to Iron Hill in September 2023 after finding reasonable cause to believe that the brewery had violated federal law. Iron Hill did not proffer an acceptable agreement for “informal methods of conciliation to endeavor to eliminate the unlawful employment practices and provide appropriate relief,” the EEOC said.

Iron Hill’s Buckhead location opened in 2020 and the Dunwoody location the following year.

Chris Westcott, Iron Hill’s CEO, said in April that the Buckhead location was attractive when it opened due to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and its shopping environment. He said it had the potential to recover from challenges arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, but “hasn’t reclaimed its destination statute.”

“Changes in consumer shopping behavior further reduced foot traffic and contributed to the decision to close the location,” he said. “These factors create an environment that makes it difficult for Iron Hill to attract customers to this location and operate successfully.”

Iron Hill in Buckhead is one of several breweries to close in metro Atlanta in the past 18 months.