Tillis Ad Features Restaurant Owner Accused Of Allowing 'Racially Hostile Work Environment'

Jun 18, 2020

A new TV and digital ad campaign for U.S. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis features one of the owners of Lancaster’s BBQ & Wings in Mooresville, which was sued by the federal government in 2018 over accusations that it “subjected a black employee to a racially hostile work environment.” 

In the ad, Tillis talks about the 1 million North Carolinians out of work who are “living paycheck to paycheck.”

The ad shows Tillis sitting at a table with Jeff Lancaster, one of the restaurant’s owners, for several seconds. The two men are talking, although their conversation isn’t audible in the commercial.

The lawsuit was based on a complaint by a former employee of the restaurant, Shana Knox, who is black. Knox said that a former white employee, Chris Bishop, at the restaurant repeatedly called her the “N-word,” telling her that he hated all black people and that he could put “all you N-word in a barrel and burn you.”

Knox also said Bishop - in January 2017 - doused her face and chest with BBQ sauce and hit her with a metal pan.

According to court documents, Bishop was fired but was then rehired by the restaurant four months later. He was fired a second time in April 2018. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says Lancaster fired Bishop after the EEOC’s preliminary finding of harassment.

The lawsuit, filed in part with the EEOC, says that Lancaster “acted deceptively” with the federal government when being interviewed about the case. It alleges that Lancaster destroyed the notepad he used when investigating the incident with Knox. 

Tillis spokesperson Andrew Romeo said Thursday that Tillis wasn’t aware of the lawsuit. The lawsuit, which was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was covered extensively in the media, including stories in the Charlotte Observer and WSOC-TV.

Lancaster told WFAE in an email on Thursday that it would be premature to talk about the lawsuit until after the trial, which is expected to begin next month.

Federal Judge Kenneth Bell ruled last week in favor of Lancaster’s in not allowing Knox to pursue claims for punitive damages. He also dismissed claims of battery and intentional infliction of distress.

Bell in making his ruling wrote, “The record does not show that the relevant managerial employees consciously disregarded Knox’s rights.”

The lawsuit says that Lancaster’s restaurant “was well aware that Chris Bishop targeted employees because of their race.” It says he also called the Hispanic kitchen staff a racial slur.

The lawsuit says that when Bishop returned after the incident with Knox, he was “not remorseful or reformed – he continued to harass other Lancaster’s employees with the use of racial slurs after he was rehired,” the plaintiffs wrote.