Former Raleigh restaurant worker files lawsuit alleging coworkers shared her private 'sexually explicit' video
Posted October 20, 2020 1:54 p.m. EDT
Updated October 20, 2020 2:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A former Firebirds Wood Fired Grill employee says she was sexually harassed while employed at the Raleigh location of the Charlotte-based chain, according to a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Kyrsten Ellis worked as a server at the North Hills location of Firebirds from August 2018 to February 2020, according to the lawsuit. Ellis alleges that during her time there she was the victim of "unwelcome sexual comments and physical sexual harassment" from kitchen staff members.
The lawsuit alleges that the harassment escalated after a private video of Ellis was inadvertently shared in a Facebook group chat consisting of Firebirds wait staff on Dec. 22, 2018. The group chat was used by wait staff for scheduling purposes. The "intimate, sexually explicit video" was made for Ellis' boyfriend.
"Instead of taking steps to remove the video and discourage the sharing of the video, management and staff of Firebirds forwarded and shared the video with Restaurant’s kitchen staff, who in turn continued to share the video with other staff members," according to the lawsuit.
Ellis claims that from December 2018 to February 2019 she was harassed, groped and ridiculed, including cartoon breasts drawn next to her name on the schedule.
Ellis said that when local management did not investigate her complaints, she contacted the restaurant's corporate office Firebirds International in February 2019. Less than an hour after exchanging emails and contact information with the corporate office, Ellis said that she received a threatening text message stating, "You can run but you can’t hide
slut….. You won’t be taking anyone down but yourself."
Ellis said that her phone number had recently changed and the new contact information had been provided to local Firebirds' management that morning.
Ellis also alleges that she was physically and sexually assaulted by a kitchen manager and another kitchen worker, who she claims grabbed her around the waist. Ellis said she reported the incident to management, but as far as she knew nothing became of the investigation.
Ellis said other kitchen staff sexually and physically assaulted her and other female wait staff. She said that other wait staff commented to her that "they all do it."
Ellis is seeking $100,000 in damages for loss of income and emotional duress.
Ellis' attorney John Austin told WRAL that Ellis would not be giving any statements at this time.
WRAL reached out to Firebirds International for comment but has not heard back. The chain, which started in Charlotte, has locations in 13 states.