I love local business. I love food. And while I am a vegetarian, I was always a huge fan of Dat Dog. I was there when it was just a small stand on Freret Street, and I witnessed it morph into the beautiful, quirky restaurant we know today. I was excited to hear about the opening of a second location on Magazine Street. I love hearing stories of small business success, which is why when a woman, “Abby” approached me with a story about her experience working there I almost didn’t want to hear it. Almost.
The revitalization of Freret Street has been met with some resistance. In an effort to bring in new business and bring down crime rates the once primarily black community has become more and more marginalized, losing time old traditions such as its second line. While lowering crime and bringing in business can be great, it is important to do so while still maintaining the culture of the community that was there before rather than trying to whitewash an entire neighborhood.
Dat Dog is a prime example. I have gone there, with many of my rich uptown Tulane friends. In fact, I frequent much of Freret Street with these same groups of people. Considering that it is located in a largely black community it is startling to see how few African Americans are employed at many of these businesses.
This was one of the issues my source, a former employee of Dat Dog, brought up to one of her managers. She asked him why there were no minorities working there, despite the fact that the store is located in a primarily black neighborhood. The response she received to her inquiries?
“We need people who can read and write…”
I guess, at least he was honest…?
This alone unsettled me, but the story gets worse.
My source told me that in April, shortly after Dat Dog moved to its new, larger location they hired a new manager. Lets call him “John”. John quickly became known for making sexual comments and sexual gestures to the majority of the female staff. Finally Abby and one of her fellow employees, “Jane”, had enough, and they complained- to no avail. After their complaints John began targeting his sexual harassment towards Jane specifically. The harassment got progressively worse for Jane, from vaguely creepy comments to him looking her up and down saying, “You look like you wanna go home with someone tonight…“. She complained twice more and was repeatedly told by her superiors simply not talk to him, to avoid him. Although Jane did as she was told he would still harass her. She’d continued to go to her superiors reporting the new offenses, and they would just shake their heads and tell her he was a moron. It was, as Abby states “insane.”
Once again, here is an example of putting the pressure on the victim, of making it their responsibility not to get sexually harassed. This is what patriarchy looks like in everyday life.
A third girl, “Emily”, who had been facing extreme sexual harassment by John eventually approached them. She told them that she had been too afraid to come forward, that she had no idea he was harassing others at work as well. John had invited her to a pool party under the pretense that it was a work party and that everyone from Dat Dog would be attending. Long story short, they weren’t. Emily went to the party to find that it was just she, John, and a few of his male friends. Emily told them that he hit on her repeatedly, that he smacked her ass, and that when she finally called him out on it- telling him that sexual harassment is not O.K.- he simply told her that no one was around to witness it so there was nothing that she could do.
Eventually, around September, John was fired, but according to my source it was basically like chopping off one head and replacing it with two more. In late September, two new men who were just as bad if not worse replaced John. One of the men made a comment to a fellow female employee one night at the end of her shift that he was “thinking about her in ways that would make her husband unhappy.”
Eventually more employees started to complain about the sexual harassment that they were facing at work, but according to my coworker nearly 40 of them either quit or were fired for “lack of morale”. The woman I spoke with said it took a lot for her to finally quit, but what finally pushed her over the edge was when one of the managers made a mistake on the computer when he was adding up the profits for the day. They came up short and he took it from the employee’s wages. This finally gave her momentum to put in her notice and leave this organization that I once thought of as inspiring.
Sadly, for Abby this wasn’t the end of the story. She was unemployed for months. She couldn’t pay any of her bills or her rent. Abby did originally file for unemployment and after an initial letter stating she would be granted the unemployment, she received a second letter stating that her claim had been contested by a previous employer alleging that she had lied about the circumstances under which she left her job. Abby told me that fighting the claim while being unemployed and having no money would have been nearly impossible. She and her fellow ex-Dat Dog employees thought about suing, they thought about filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but they were so drained from fighting management and not being heard that they decided they just wanted to move on with their lives- something that Abby says she is still trying to do.
This kind of blatant racism, sexism, and harassment is what makes it so difficult for women to succeed and advance in the work place. We are told to get thicker skin, to toughen up, but when your livelihood is at stake, when your wages are being garnished, and no one is listening to what you have to say it can feel more than hopeless. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Women shouldn’t be afraid to go to work. They shouldn’t have to choose between working in a hostile environment or face months of unemployment. When people suggest that we live in a “post-racial” era, or that sexism doesn’t exist, they should really take a closer look at the everyday goings on at the businesses they spend their time and money at.
Sadly, the service industry is rampant with racism, and sexism. I don’t think that it needs to be however. As brave as these young women were for voicing their concerns, and leaving this establishment, the power for change lies in the money. It is unlikely that these common practices will ever change solely from the efforts of those who work in the service industry, its takes people on the outside exposing this behavior to make a difference.
Remember, every time you make a purchase you are casting a vote. For me, until I learn that Dat Dog has severely revamped their managing practices I know I wont be casting my vote for them any time soon. I urge you to do the same.