DICKSON, Tenn – The new owner of a Tennessee pretzel store is accused of discriminating against an employee who is deaf.
Keri Watkins can’t hear, but her co-workers said she can do her job at Auntie Anne’s just fine.
“She feels discriminated against,” said Kami Tucker, Watkins’ interpreter and the former store manager.
Watkins has worked at the pretzel shop inside the Dickson Walmart for nearly two years. Employees said that job ended when a new owner bought the franchise and said Watkins couldn’t work there anymore because she is deaf.
“It hurts,” Watkins said through her interpreter.
“They said she was incapable of doing her job when she’s been doing it for almost two years,” Tucker said. “She does her job amazing. People come by just to see her.”
Tucker said the new owners said Watkins could only work if she got a hearing implant, learned to read lips or provided her own interpreter.
“It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous,” Tucker said. “It’s morally wrong.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law provides protections against discrimination for the deaf.
Tucker said she was also fired when she protested.
The Dickson Auntie Anne’s store was closed Tuesday because so many employees have walked out.
“I think it’s absolutely insane. I don’t even have words to say how mad it made me. I quit the day I found out that they fired her,” said Rebecca Tucker, a former employee.
The owners of the Dickson franchise are Kallie and Steve Leasure. Channel 4 left phone messages and later received an email statement from Chas Kurtz, Auntie Anne’s corporate spokesman:
“We expect our franchisees to comply with all laws and regulations. As a national franchisor, we take all complaints seriously.”
Kami Tucker takes it personally because Watkins is also her sister.
“I’ve fought my whole life for her, and until I take my dying breath, I’ll fight for her,” she said.
Kami Tucker said the former owners knew she had hired her sister and were fine with it and even encouraged it.