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Pinson Waffle House

By William Thornton | wthornton@al.com

A Blount County woman is suing her former employer of 16 years, saying she was unfairly fired for inadvertently appearing in a viral video last year.

Since then, Ginger Umland said, she has received death threats, lost her medical insurance, needed counseling, and gone from making $25 an hour at her old job to $10 an hour at her current one. Her lawsuit calls the result “special humiliation.”

The lawsuit against Thompson Tractor and its human resource director was filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in August and seeks damages of $1 million, along with court costs and other relief. It springs from an incident last year in Pinson.

On April 22, 2018, Jacinda Mitchell, a black woman, claimed she was denied entry to a Pinson Waffle House. She recorded the incident on her phone for social media. A video showed the locked front door of the restaurant at night. Inside, activity appeared to continue normally, with customers eating and employees cooking food.

“They have the door locked and they have customers in here, and they’re saying that they’re closed,” the woman says. “The customers are eating and they happen to be white customers, and I am an African-American...They have people that they’re serving but they’re telling me that they’re closed.”

Mitchell said in an accompanying social media post that “I initially record just to show corporate about the doors being locked. I don’t need a lawsuit.... just needs to be brought to the public attention.” Mitchell later said she received a letter of apology and a $15 certificate for food from Waffle House, which she returned.

At one point in the video, Umland appears walking past the front door. Just as she comes into view, Umland’s husband steps in front of her and points at Mitchell, mouthing words, before the video abruptly ends.

Umland said that evening, she and her husband had been out singing karaoke and stopped at Waffle House to eat. After ordering, she went to the bathroom.

“There weren’t a lot of people there, but we understood later there was a big rush, and the cook/manager told the waitress to try and get everything cleaned up. So they locked the doors,” she said. Waffle House later said this was against company policy.

When she saw Mitchell recording the scene on video, Umland said, “I didn’t know what was going on.”

“My husband told her, you don’t have permission to record us, we will sue you,” she said. According to the lawsuit, after the video ended, Mitchell’s companion began shouting and slamming the windows of the restaurant near Umland. Store management called the police but no report was ever taken. Umland said she has never spoken to Mitchell.

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